Impact of Recreational UV Exposure

The Impact of Recreational UV Exposure

Publish Date July 25, 2023 3 Minute Read
Author Neutrogena®

Could a Week-long Beach Vacation Equal Half a Year's Sun Exposure?

Many of us spend all year looking forward to taking our summer and winter vacations. The idea of relaxing on a beach, playing in the sand and swimming in the ocean can help get us through even the most monotonous meetings. In fact, Americans make more than 400 million visits to the beach every year.

But beach vacations aren’t all sunshine. Studies show that the sun we get during vacations can make up to 50% of our total annual UV exposure. High solar-intensity beach settings can put people at risk of UV over-exposure that can lead to acute and chronic health consequences including erythema, photoaging and skin cancer.

New Study Shows the Impact of Recreational UV Exposure

There are many ways that studies can track average UV exposure amounts. They may use behavioral data, location information, personal subject diaries or track personal UV exposure directly from worn dosimeters.

In one study, the solar conditions of Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg, Florida in April were combined with a 3D body model of an adult female to calculate and visualize the UV exposure during a week-long beach vacation. The resulting UV exposure was 172 standard erythemal doses (SED), which is comparable to the average total annual exposure of European and North American residents.

What does that mean? It means an average week-long beach trip could increase your non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) risk by a factor of 2–4 on areas of the body we typically expose on the beach. So how can we have our vacation and stay safe, too?

How to Stay Safe

Did you know that you can be exposed to UV rays even when under an umbrella? Even though umbrellas and beach tents protect from solar irradiance (the direct output of light energy from the sun), they may not be enough to keep UV rays at bay.

Unsurprisingly, the highest daily exposure amounts are seen on the areas we don’t typically cover while on vacation - head, neck, arms, legs, hands and feet.

All sunny beach vacation settings contribute significantly to daily exposure totals. Shade doesn’t completely reduce sunburn risk and can vary depending on the shade source and the area of the body that’s exposed.

But you don’t have to give up your beach vacation just to stay safe in the sun. Here are some tips on how to enjoy the sun, sans burn.

  • Use an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen all over your body. Give extra attention to exposed areas.
  • Opt for UV-protectant clothing.
  • Bring your own shelter and look for umbrellas and tents that are made with UV-blocking fabrics.
  • Limit your time in direct sunlight.
  • Reapply sunscreen every hour for best results.
  • Limit direct sunlight during the peak hours of 10am-4pm.

Many of us know that UV light is a carcinogen, and that heavy exposure can have detrimental effects on skin (and by extension, our overall health). This study allows us to focus on protecting the areas that are particularly vulnerable to sun exposure so that we can enjoy our vacations and be safe, too. With more insight on what areas of the body are at high risk for exposure, we can ensure that we have fun in the sun, while protecting our skin. Explore more health tips.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and is not meant to provide healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.