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Health effects of too much sun

Most people know that too much sun has been linked to skin cancer. But did you know that there are other effects on your health from too much sun besides skin cancer? If you know about the risks, you will be better able to protect yourself and enjoy the sun safely. Learn more about how to protect yourself from the sun!

Too much UV radiation from the sun can cause all of these health issues:

There is no such thing as a safe suntan! 
Learn more from this girlshealth.gov fact sheet  [pdf PDF 283K]

Melanoma arrow top

What about Vitamin D? Doesn't it come from the sun?

You may have heard that the sun helps people make vitamin D, and that many people may not get enough vitamin D. Ask your doctor if you need to get more vitamin D from your diet or in the form of a supplement. Some people may also benefit from brief exposure to the sun. Keep important sun safety tips in mind, though. Ask your doctor how best to protect your skin and get enough of this important vitamin.

Melanoma (say: mell-ah-NOH-ma) is the most serious form of skin cancer. Many scientists think there is a link between childhood sunburns and melanoma later in life. Melanoma starts when cells on the skin start growing uncontrollably. They can develop suddenly and without warning. They can develop from or near a mole on your skin. For this reason, it is important to know the appearance and location of the moles on your body so you see any change. Be aware of any unusual skin rashes, or of any change in the color or size of a mole, and talk to your doctor or nurse about it. Finding a melanoma early can save your life! Check your skin each month for new or changing moles.

Nonmelanoma skin cancers arrow top

Nonmelanoma (say: non-mell-ah-NOH-ma) skin cancers are not as serious as melanoma. However, they can still cause health problems and need to be treated by a doctor. There are two kinds:

  • Basal cell carcinomas – these are small tumors on the skin that look like small fleshy bumps
  • Squamous cell carcinomas – these are small tumors on the skin that might appear as red, scaly patches

Actinic keratoses arrow top

Actinic keratoses (say: ack-TIN-ick ker-ah-TOE-sees) are growths on the skin caused by the sun. They are usually found on the face, hands, forearms, and the “V” of the neck. They are usually rough and scaly. See a doctor right away if you notice these growths.

Early aging of the skin arrow top

We often get the message that tanned skin is youthful and healthy. Isn’t it funny, though, that tanning your skin is the fastest way to look old and wrinkled? Being in the sun — or sitting in a tanning bed — without proper protection causes the skin to become thick, wrinkled, and leathery. This occurs slowly, and doesn’t show up for many years. However, with proper protection from UV radiation, you can keep your young-looking skin for a long time. You can learn more about the effects of tanning in the Body section of girlshealth.gov.

Cataracts and other eye damage arrow top

Cataracts (say: CAT-ah-racts) are a kind of eye damage that cause cloudy vision. If they are not treated, a person could lose their sight. UV radiation can cause some kinds of cataracts.

Problems with the immune system arrow top

Your immune system protects your body from germs and bad bacteria. White blood cells are an important part of your immune system. Scientists have found that sunburn can harm white blood cells for up to 24 hours after being in the sun. Lots of time in UV radiation — from the sun or a tanning bed — might cause long-lasting damage to the body’s immune system. Mild sunburns can stop the immune system from working the right way in people of all skin types.

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A girl pulling her tank top strap back to reveal a bad sunburn.Who is at risk?

Too much UV radiation can cause serious health effects for everyone, but not everyone has the same amount of risk. For example, you may be at greater risk of skin cancer if your skin always burns, or burns easily, and if you have blond or red hair, or blue, green, or grey eyes. Other things that increase your risk for skin cancer include:

  • A history of blistering sunburns in early childhood
  • Many moles
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • Spending a lot of time outdoors without sun protection

However, even if you don’t have these increased risk factors, you can still get skin cancer. And everyone, no matter what their skin type, is at risk of eye damage from the sun.

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Content last reviewed July 20, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

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