UB dermatologist offers sun safety tips

Woman wearing a floppy hat slathers her shoulder with sunscreen.


Published August 3, 2023

Kristina Seiffert.

Kristina Seiffert


From walks along Canalside to chowing down at the Erie County Fair to days at a Lake Erie beach, Western New Yorkers enjoy the summer sun in a variety of ways. No matter how you choose to have fun in the sun, though, staying protected from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is vital. 

Kristina Seiffert, research assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, encourages everyone to get outside and enjoy the weather, safely.

“Being in the sun is fun and being physically active while outdoors is good for your overall health, both physically and psychologically,” Seiffert says. “However, it is certainly important to protect yourself from the harmful UV rays emanating from the sun. They can lead to premature skin aging and, more importantly, skin cancer.”

Seiffert shares some tips on how to protect yourself and your family this summer.

What are the best ways to protect yourself and others while out in the sun?

There are many ways we can protect ourselves while still having fun in the sun. There is no need to “bake” in the sun if it can be avoided. Seek shade under umbrellas, trees and other shelter, especially during the midday hours when the sun’s rays are the strongest.

Wear sun protective clothing: A wide-brimmed hat, light colored, long-sleeve shirts and long pants, some cool sunglasses with UV protection.

Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 on exposed areas. Don’t forget about the neck (front and back), top of ears and scalp if you happen to be balding — but a hat may be better in that case anyway. Get help with hard-to-reach areas such as the mid-upper back.

Reapply sunscreen as suggested on the label, particularly after sweating, swimming and toweling off.

Any sun safety tips specifically for children? How about seniors?

The frequency of sunburns in childhood has been correlated with an increased risk for skin cancer in adults. Thus, protecting your kids’ sensitive skin is particularly important.

Make sure they wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen in the morning to all exposed skin before they leave for camp or go on an outing with you. Remind them to reapply sunscreen during the day, especially after strenuous activity and swimming, and help them put the sunscreen on in hard-to-reach areas.

The exception is babies under the age of 6 months to 1 year. They have highly sensitive skin and may react to sunscreen application with rashes. Staying out of the sun, keeping them in the shade and wearing protective clothing is best for babies.

Senior skin can burn just like younger skin, so all the tips listed above apply to seniors, too. As our skin ages, we can develop precursors of skin cancers, such as actinic keratoses, from the lifelong effects of skin exposure, especially in lighter-skin individuals. Continue to be mindful of UV rays and see your dermatologist if you have any concerns.

Do we need to worry about sun safety on cloudy days?

Yes! While UV rays are not as strong on cloudy days, they are still present and you can still get a burn when not protecting yourself. This is particularly true if you visit areas where the sunlight reflects from other surfaces, like large lakes or the ocean in summer, or snow-covered hills in winter.

Even in the winter, wearing SPF 15 facial cream not only prevents sunburns but prevents skin aging.

Does sunscreen clothing work? And if you are wearing these types of clothes, should you still use sunscreen?

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunscreen is an important part of a complete sun-protection strategy in addition to staying in the shade and using protective clothing. As for protective clothing, a nice cotton or linen shirt is usually good enough unless you are very sun-sensitive or have a history of skin cancer. Keep in mind that the thinner the material, the more UV rays it will let through.

There are specific brands selling UV-tested and rated fabrics that will provide even more protection. They do work, particularly for lighter-skinned individuals in very sunny environments. Still use sunscreen in exposed areas, though.

What have we learned from recent research in sun safety?

We have learned that both physical (mineral) as well as chemical sunscreen ingredients are effective. While physical sunscreens are less likely to cause skin irritation, particularly people with darker complexion do not like the whitish residue they leave on the skin and how they sometimes feel “caked on.”

Both types of sunscreens have proven effective, though, and many products available combine both types of ingredients. Use the ones you are most comfortable with, and you are most likely to use.