How long can I be in the sun before it is damaging to my skin?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
You can be in the sun without sunscreen for up to 20 minutes a day. Humans need the sun to get their daily dose of vitamin D. However, after 20 minutes, you must apply sunscreen. Be generous and reapply after swimming or sweating profusely. Don't spend money on a sunscreen over SPF 30. There are no proven additional benefits of SPFs above that level.

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It depends! Some people have no natural sun protection and even a few minutes of unprotected sun can lead to a serious burns or skin cancer (see xeroderma pigmentosa patients for example).

Today the UV factor is 11 here in San Diego. Someone with fair skin could only safely be in the sun for 5 minutes or less today before getting sunburned. For someone with dark skin or if the UV factor was 3, then they could be in the sun safely for 30 minutes or more.

Look at your skin type and the UV forecast and always be cautious.  


There is no defined amount of safe sun exposure. Anytime your skin is exposed to the sun's UV rays, it's at risk for damage. Although it varies depending on skin type, you can experience sunburn in a matter of minutes if the UV Index Scale is too high.

Use a sunscreen and wear protective clothing to safeguard your skin from the sun's harmful rays.
This is extremely variable depending on your genetics. The darker and thicker your skin, the longer the sun exposure needed to start sun radiation damage. For freckling individuals, sun exposure may cause damage very quickly, even in less than 5 minutes. This is why it is very important to protect your skin with sunblock when you are outside.
Alexander M. Majidian, MD
Plastic Surgery
A little bit of sun exposure can be healthy for us, says Alexander Majidian, MD, FACS of the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital. In this video, he explains the damage too much sun can cause and how to prevent it.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.