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Grab your sunscreen: Why you can burn so easily in spring

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist

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Even though it's only spring and cool outside, the sun is strong enough to cause a nasty sunburn.

People should take the risk of sunburn seriously year round. Ultraviolet rays (UV radiation) from the sun strike the Earth's atmosphere throughout the year.

Static AP Sunscreen Beach

A woman applies sunscreen to a little boy on the beach at Atlantic City, New Jersey. (AP Photo / Mary Godleski)


When the sun angle is high, more UV rays are reaching the ground and potentially your skin than when the sun angle is low.

However, even during low-sun angle periods during the winter, spring, fall, early mornings and evenings, there are still some UV rays getting through. Even on cloudy days, there are a small amount of UV rays reaching the ground.

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People who have gone to sunny afternoon football games in September and October may have noticed their exposed skin being sore and red that evening. The same may be true for outdoor exercise enthusiasts on those first sunny days in the spring.

For example, during early April, the sun is as strong as early September. By the middle of April, the sun is as strong as late August.

Static Spring sun


Generally as long as the date is within several weeks after the Autumnal Equinox (Sept. 22-24) and before the Vernal Equinox (March 19-21), most fair-skinned people can easily get sunburn when unprotected skin is exposed for more than a few minutes. The equinox is the date at which the sun's rays pass directly over the equator at noon.

Experts warn not to be deceived about temperatures being lower in spring compared to summer.

Whether or not people get a sunburn has nothing to do with the outside air temperature. It is possible to get a sunburn on a sunny day with a temperature of 40 F as well as a sunny day with a temperature of 80.

spring sun


It is even possible to get sunburn in the winter, especially at high elevations. Snowcover tends to reflect sunlight rather than absorb it. At high elevations, the atmosphere is thinner and less of the UV rays are filtered out.

Some people may be more prone to getting a sunburn in the spring as opposed to the fall, since their skin has not yet tanned.

However, a base tan only offers slight resistance to burning with an effective SPF (sun protection factor) of 2-4, which is well below the minimum recommended SPF of 15, according to Scientific American.

A base tan may give many individuals only a few minutes of protection.

When a sunburn occurs, DNA in the skin has been damaged, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Damaged DNA can lead to forms of skin cancer.

Always wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 on exposed skin when outdoors for more than a few minutes at a time.


For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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