Can you get sunburned on a cloudy day?

And yes, you can still get sunburned on a cloudy day. A high percentage of the ultraviolet (UV) light emitted by the sun penetrates through the clouds. They still have to try to protect their skin like they would on a sunny day.

Sunburn is caused by excessive exposure to the sun. This exposure is a major cause of skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. The sun emits UV rays that penetrate the outer layer of skin and can cause changes that lead to burns. Sunburn can accelerate skin aging. There are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB and UVC. Each has different wavelengths and different effects on the skin.

Precautions should be taken to avoid sunburn by reducing UV exposure and protecting the skin.

This article will tell you if you can get sunburned on a cloudy day, what are the symptoms of sunburn and how to protect yourself from it. It also examines the risk factors for sunburn.

Can you get sunburned on a cloudy day?

Even on cloudy days, the sun still emits UV rays that can penetrate the clouds and cause sunburn. Over 90% of UV rays can penetrate light cloud cover and cause sunburn. UV levels tend to be highest under clear skies, and cloudiness generally reduces a person’s exposure. However, light clouds offer little protection and even increase UV levels due to an effect called scattering.

Many surfaces also reflect UV rays, increasing the overall UV concentration to which a person is exposed:

– Grass, ground or water reflect less than 10% of UV radiation
– Sand reflects about 15% of UV rays
– Sea foam reflects about 25
– Fresh snow almost doubles a person’s UV exposure.

Types of UV radiation

There are three different types of UV rays, each with a different wavelength. These are the following:

– Ultraviolet A (UVA): This type of light has a wavelength of 315-399 nanometers (nm) and is associated with skin aging.
– Ultraviolet B (UVB): This type of light has a wavelength of 280 to 314 nm and is associated with sunburn.
– Ultraviolet C (UVC): This type of light has a wavelength of 100-279 nm.

UVA rays make up 95% of the UV light that reaches the earth. UVB is the main type of UV light that causes sunburn. The ozone layer completely absorbs UVC. UVA rays can penetrate windows and cloud cover and cause tanning. There are associations between UVA and skin aging and UVB and skin burns. Both UVA and UVB can damage the DNA in skin cells. Prolonged exposure to any of these types of UV rays can lead to skin cancer.

What are the symptoms of a sunburn?

Sunburn causes people of all skin colors to:

– Flushing or overheating
– Touch sensitivity
– a pain
– irritation
– itching
– Exfoliation of the skin
– Possibility of blistering

Symptoms usually begin about 4 hours after sun exposure. They tend to get worse within 24-36 hours and usually go away within 3-5 days.
Sunburns are often easier to spot on fair skin because they can appear red and inflamed. It can be harder to spot the redness or subtle pink of a sunburn in people of color. As the sunburn heals, the skin in the affected area may peel off. It’s important to take care of the skin while it’s healing, although the sunburn itself should go away on its own within a few days.

Is sun protection essential?

There are currently two types of sunscreens: physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens, also called sunscreens, typically contain ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
Chemical sunscreens contain chemicals that absorb both UVB and UVA rays. They usually contain one of the following active ingredients:

– aminobenzoic acid
– avobenzone
– octi lettuce
– octocrylene
– oxybenzone

Broad spectrum sunscreens contain blockers that absorb both UVA and UVB rays. Every sunscreen usually has a sun protection factor (SPF) on its packaging. A higher sun protection factor indicates better protection against sunburn. Sunscreen is essential because it reduces the amount of UV rays that penetrate the skin and lowers the risk of developing skin cancer. For everyday use, a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher should be used. Regular daily use of sunscreen with SPF 15 can reduce the risk of squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, by about 40%. It can also reduce the risk of melanoma by 50%. Since UV rays can penetrate clouds even on cloudy days, it is advisable to wear sunscreen even on cloudy days to ensure effective protection.

This is how you stay protected

There are many ways to protect your skin, reduce your UV radiation and prevent sunburn:

– Do not go outside when UV radiation is at its strongest, for example between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
– Wear clothing that covers the skin well
– Use sunscreen
– wear a hat with a brim
– Wear sunglasses that block UV rays
– Consider wearing clothing with a UV protection factor to block the rays.
Choose a broad spectrum sunscreen that is waterproof for 40-80 minutes and has an SPF of 30 or higher.

You should also make sure that exposed parts of your body are sufficiently covered with sunscreen. It takes about a full frame shot glass to cover the whole body.
Sunscreen should be applied about 15 minutes before going out as this is the approximate time it takes for the skin to absorb the sunscreen. However, not all sunscreens are water or sweat proof. Apply sunscreen every two hours, regardless of SPF.

One should also take care to apply sunscreen to areas of the body that are easily overlooked, including:

– over the ears
– the neck
– the dividing line of the scalp
– the top of the feet
– behind the knees

skin changes

Melanin is a pigment found in skin, hair and eyes. Melanocytes are the cells that produce melanin. As they absorb UV rays, melanocytes increase the production of melanin to protect the skin from damage. People of color have more melanin-producing cells.
Doctors consider a tan to be evidence of DNA damage. The more the skin is damaged, the greater the risk that the DNA will be transcribed incorrectly and lead to a precancerous stage or to cancer. Melanin helps block UV rays, but only up to a point. Although the risk of sunburn is lower in people with darker skin, they should still use sunscreen and limit their sun exposure to reduce their risk of developing skin cancer.

Risk factors for sunburn

Certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of sunburn.

The risk factors that can lead to sunburn are:

– have fair skin
– have light eyes, such as blue or green eyes
– have light-colored hair, e.g. B. blond, red or light brown hair
– be at high altitude
– are taking medicines that make the skin more sensitive to light, e.g. B. St. John’s wort
– Taking medications such as tetracyclines, thiazide diuretics, sulfonamides, and fluoroquinolones
– Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
– Use retinoids
– Live in a tropical or subtropical climate.

in summary

Sunburn is caused by prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays. UVB and UVA are two types of UV rays that cause skin changes. Doctors commonly associate UVB rays with sunburn. UV light can penetrate clouds. This is why one can get sunburned even on cloudy or cloudy days. Symptoms of sunburn include hot or warm skin, itching, pain, occasional blistering, and skin peeling.

You can reduce your risk of sunburn by using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, wearing appropriate clothing, limiting time in the sun and avoiding sun exposure when UV light is strongest, i.e. between 10am and 4pm. Some people are at a higher risk of sunburn, such as fair-skinned people, people who take certain medications, people who work or spend a lot of time outdoors.

To reduce the risk of developing skin cancer, protective measures such as frequent application of sunscreen should be taken regardless of skin color.


Gabros, S., et al. (2021). Sun and light protection.

Guerra, K., et al. (2021). Prevention of skin cancer.

Radiation: Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. (2016).

* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace the advice of a doctor.

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