3 surprising ways to get sunburned

July 6, 2018 Swedish Blogger

a close up of a female's shoulders. Her swimsuit has been shifted to the side to reveal a very dark sunburn with some skin peeling.


In this article:

  • Skin cancer is more commonly diagnosed than all other cancers combined in the U.S.

  • Discover three easy-to-forget ways you may be increasing the odds of getting sunburned.

  • Talk to your Swedish doctor about your skin health and how to reduce your risk of skin cancer.

With more people being diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined each year in the United States, it’s no wonder we are all trying to find out how to reduce our risk of sun damage and defend against sunburns.

Many of us try to keep out of the sun and take the necessary measures to stay safe, but what you may not be aware of are the surprising ways that you can get sunburned and leave yourself exposed to harmful ultraviolet rays.

Below are three surprising ways to get sunburned and what to do about them.

1. Driving in the car

Whether you’re scooting around town or going on a long road trip, spending time in your car can leave you exposed to the sun. Because you can’t control where the sun is as you’re driving or block all of your windows, driving can be a very easy way to get sunburned.

A study by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that “nearly 53% of skin cancers in the U.S. occur on the left, or drivers' side of the body.” This is likely caused by the extended hours of direct sunlight or ultraviolet (UV) radiation pouring through car windows on a daily basis.

A few ways to reduce UV radiation and sunburns while driving are:

  • Install window film on your windows. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends adding transparent window film to all of your windows. These films screen out UVB and UVA radiation, and they are available everywhere in the U.S.
  • Keep sunscreen in your car and reapply every two hours.
  • Wear protective clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor to help block some harmful rays from your skin.

2.  In the shade

On a hot day, few things can feel nicer than lying under a shady tree or umbrella, but in many cases, shady structures rarely provide the sun protection you need to avoid a nasty sunburn.

Because of the typically thin fabric used to make umbrellas, the UV rays that make their way through can leave you feeling a little flushed. But what causes the most sun damage under the shade isn’t coming from above you, it’s coming from below you.

Whether you’re lying under a tree or umbrella, the reflection of UV rays off of the pavement or sand can really impact your skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation explains that “the amount of UV present beneath an umbrella can be up to 84 percent of that in [the] sun depending on the levels of indirect UV.” This means that just because you have shade above you, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t protect yourself from the sun.

3. While wearing sunscreen

Not all sunscreens are alike and since the market is saturated, it’s easy to assume that you will be protected from sun damage after applying. When choosing sunscreen, there are a few key things to look for.

  • Broad-spectrum: Try and choose a sunscreen that says it is broad-spectrum. This will ensure that it blocks both UVA and UVB rays. The American Cancer Society explains that all sunscreen products protect against UVB rays, which contribute towards sunburns, but UVA rays cause pre-mature aging and skin cancer.
  • Higher SPF rating: It’s pretty easy to determine that the higher the SPF rating, the more your skin will be protected. But a common misconception is that the higher the SPF rating, the longer that the sunscreen works. This is not the case. Folks should choose an SPF above 15 and be sure to reapply every two hours.
  • Water-resistant: If you are going to be spending a day at the pool or doing an activity that will cause you to sweat, choosing a sunscreen that is water-resistant can be helpful. Be aware that water-resistant does not mean waterproof. Anytime you go into the water or sweat, your sunscreen will start to wear off. Check the label and see how long your sunscreen will last after you enter the water and reapply accordingly.

During summertime and year-round, it is important to protect yourself and your loved ones from the sun. Although these are not the only surprising ways that you can get sunburned, paying attention to where you are in relation to the sun and applying sunscreen regularly can help keep sunburns at bay.

Find a doctor

If you have questions about sun protection, contact the dermatology department at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Additional resources 

Can a relationship lead to better skincare?

Protect against melanoma in kids

Summer, sun and why you still need sunscreen in Seattle

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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