Why Use Sunscreen When it is Cloudy?

Melanoma of the Skin: Incident Rates by State, 2010 -Photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention

Most of us are pretty sure we know how to protect ourselves in the sun. Use sunscreen when it’s hot and sunny, try not to get a sunburn, wear a hat, and so on. But we live in Oregon, home of the cloudy day and liquid sunshine. And if it’s cloudy, there’s no reason to bother with all that sun protection business, right? The clouds will protect us?

While I’ve heard this from so many Oregonians, it’s actually a big misconception. Ultraviolet radiation, the invisible rays that come from the sun and can do nasty thing like prematurely age your skin and cause skin cancer, can go right through clouds.  It’s actually the UV rays, not the warmth or brightness of the sun, that can cause your skin to burn, and wearing sunscreen would prevent that from happening.

But when the clouds roll in, most of us would never think to put on sunscreen to protect our skin. Because why would you wear sunscreen on a cloudy day? Believe me, as an Oregonian, I understand the dissonance.

That’s why when I came across a product that had rebranded their sunscreen to incorporate clouds into the name, I was impressed that it would  remind us that we need protection from UV rays even on cloudy days. And seeing that Oregon is consistently in the TOP 5 for highest rates of melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) in the U.S., it might actually save lives.

Submitted by: Hilary Nichols, Western Washington University Student, Summer Intern in the McCullough and Rohlman Labs

CROETweb Sun Exposure topic

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  1. I agree with this wholeheartedly. Once when my son was 18 months old, it was a cloudy overcast day. I did not put any sunscreen on him while we were outside for a while. He burned so badly on his head, he blistered. So yes, put sunscreen on no matter the weather, no matter the age.

  2. I can tell the sun comes through the clouds because I break out in freckles even in the gray summer! I think awareness of this issue is important, and I’m glad someone is actually talking about it. There’s a pretty great sun screen at Trader Joe’s that isn’t even greasy. Maybe if it smelled great and also had moisturizer, people would actually use sun screen as much as they should!

About the Author

Dede supports the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences and the Oregon Healthy WorkForce Center's research, engagement and education programs. She is a certified industrial hygienist.

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