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Selection of sunscreen and sun-protective measures

Elma D Baron, MD
Section Editor
Craig A Elmets, MD
Deputy Editor
Rosamaria Corona, MD, DSc


Sunlight is essential for synthesis of vitamin D and has beneficial effects on mood. However, ultraviolet (UV) radiation (290 to 400 nm (figure 1)) is responsible for several acute and chronic detrimental effects on human skin, including sunburn, photoaging, and skin cancer.

Ultraviolet B (UVB) (290 to 320 nm), which represents only 5 percent of the UV radiation reaching the earth's surface, includes the biologically most active wavelengths. UVB is responsible for sunburn, inflammation, hyperpigmentation, and photocarcinogenesis.  

Approximately 95 percent of the UV radiation reaching the earth surface is ultraviolet A (UVA) (320 to 400 nm). UVA2 (320 to 340 nm), which constitutes approximately 25 percent of the UVA band, produces similar effects on the skin as UVB. UVA1 (340 to 400 nm) is less potent than UVA2 and has a decreased ability to induce erythema. UVA contributes to photoaging, has a major role in pigment darkening, and may be involved in skin carcinogenesis [1-3].

Photoprotection, which includes sun avoidance during peak hours, sun-protective clothing, and sunscreens, is crucial to prevent or reduce the potential harms associated with UV exposure.

Sunscreens and sun-protective clothing are reviewed here. Sunburns, photosensitivity disorders, and photoaging are discussed separately. (See "Sunburn" and "Photosensitivity disorders (photodermatoses): Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment" and "Photoaging".)

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Literature review current through: Oct 2017. | This topic last updated: Dec 07, 2016.
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