To avoid sunburn or excessive exposure, staying out of direct sunlight is the primary defense.
If long sun exposure cannot be avoided or is desired one may use sunscreen or various over-the-counter creams to reduce sun exposure. The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number on a sunscreen product shows its rated effectiveness. Products with a higher SPF number are those designed to provide more defense for the skin against the effects of solar radiation. However in 1998, the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science reported that some sunscreens advertising UVA and UVB protection do not provide adequate safety from UVA radiation and could give sun tanners a false sense of protection.
Tanning oils or creams, when applied, are usually thicker on some parts of skin than on others. This causes some parts of skin to get more UVA and UVB than others and thus get sunburns. For this reason, improper application of tanning oils or creams may increase the occurrence of skin cancer and other skin diseases.
For those who choose to tan, some dermatologists recommend the following preventative measures:
Make sure the sunscreen blocks both UVA and UVB rays. These types of sunscreens, called broad-spectrum sunscreens, contain more active ingredients. Ideally a sunscreen should also be hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic so it doesn't cause a rash or clog the pores, which can cause acne.
Sunscreen needs to be applied thickly enough to make a difference. People often do not put on enough sunscreen to get the full SPF protection. In case of uncertainty about how much product to use, or discomfort with the amount applied, switching to a sunscreen with a higher SPF may help.
Reapply sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours and after swimming or sweating. In direct sun, wear a sunscreen with a higher SPF (such as SPF 30). For playing sports the sunscreen should also be waterproof and sweatproof.
The rays of the sun are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m, so frequent shade breaks are recommended during these hours. Sun rays are stronger at higher elevations (mountains) and lower latitudes (near the equator). One way to deal with time zones and latitude is to check shadow length. If a person's shadow is shorter than their actual height, the risk of sunburn is much higher.
Wear a hat with a brim and anti-UV sunglasses which can provide almost 100% protection against ultraviolet radiation entering the eyes.
Be aware that reflective surfaces like snow and water can greatly increase the amount of UV radiation to which the skin is exposed.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the use of sunscreens, wearing sun protective clothing and avoiding the sun altogether.