What Is The Worst Time Of Day For A Sunburn? Staying In The Shade During These Hours Is In Your Best Interest
In a perfect world, we'd all be covered in sunscreen all the time — or we'd just stay indoors safely away from the dangers of the sun all summer. But in real life, the best we can do probably do is to avoid exposure during the worst time of day for a sunburn. When even is that, though? It's sort of hard to get a straight answer, but generally speaking, staying in the shade during the middle of the day is your best bet.
According to the Sun Safety Alliance, the worst time of day for a sunburn is from approximately 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The American Skin Association agrees, as does the U.S. National Library of Medicine. But the American Academy of Dermatology names 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as skin damage (and sunburn) prime time — a full two hours shorter than the other recommendations list.
Despite the differences, though, what these time ranges have in common is that they're basically when the sun is directly overhead. When the sun is in this position, its rays can hit your skin more directly, causing the damage that leads to sunburn. UVA rays tend to cause aging while UVB rays tend to cause sunburn; however, it may take a few hours to over a day for the sunburn to visually show up all the way (and for the pain to set in).
Take note that how hot it feels outside isn't necessarily a good indicator of your odds of getting a sunburn. Because it takes a while for the rays from the sun to heat up the earth, and because the heat tends to accumulates earthside, the hottest time of day comes later than the sunniest — and sunburniest — time: UV levels can fall even by as much as half by then, as compared to their daily peak. What this means in practice is that even if you're not very warm, you can definitely need sunscreen in those late morning and early afternoon hours. On a spring or fall day, it may still even feel deceptively cool — but seriously, don't skip the sunblock.
It's worth protecting yourself even if you're going to be in the car then, too. Though many drivers are off the road at the worst time of day for sunburn — the logic being because they commute in the morning and evening, outside the 10 a.m. to 2 or 4 p.m. window — your car's glass may not provide adequate sun protection. Strong windshields perform decently in blocking damaging rays, but cars' side windows are often made of weaker materials; especially if they're untinted, these side windows may provide a lower level of protection from the sun's rays than the windshield. So even though it doesn't seem like you're going outside, you may need to apply sunblock just to hit the road.
Speaking of sunblock, choose one that says "broad spectrum" in order to protect yourself from both UVA and UVB rays. And be sure you're applying enough, because the formula can't do its job if it's spread too thin. Most people use sunscreen all wrong, unfortunately, and you can end up burned from exposure any time of day if you don't get it right,