Sun Exposure: What Is the Best Time for It?

Sunbathing isn’t only about getting a beautiful tan. It’s about becoming¬†healthier as well because sun exposure triggers the production of vitamin D, a nutrient with a huge positive impact on our health. Nevertheless, inadequate exposure¬†to sunlight can pose serious health risks, especially at certain hours when the ultraviolet radiation is at its peak and can cause serious harm. Most people usually know how to enjoy sun exposure in a relatively healthy manner, in the sense that they acknowledge the importance of sunscreen and sunblock use as well as know when it’s the best and worst time to go outside in the sun. Nevertheless, not everyone knows what the best and worst sunbathing hours are and why, or why it is so important that we stick to expert’s recommendations when it comes to sun exposure.

Sunbathing is first and foremost about vitamin D production and its highly beneficial effects on physical health, improving immunity, strengthening bones, preventing rickets, osteopenia and osteoporosis, alleviating joint pain and muscle aches as well as boosting mental health, regulating circadian rhythms to improve sleep patterns, relieve insomnia and reduce the prevalence and effects of seasonal affective disorder. Vitamin D production depends on sufficient and adequate sun exposure that encourages our skin to produce the nutrient. Neither too much nor to little sun exposure are good for us.

Best sunbathing hours

The best time for sun exposure depends not only on the time of day, but also on the time of year, geographical coordinates, weather conditions (is it cloudy or is it a clear sky?) as well as skin particularities, sunscreen or sunblock use, clothing choice etc. Considering this wide variety of factors that influence the intensity/amount of ultraviolet radiation reaching our skin, safe sunlight exposure hours may not be the same for everyone across the globe. With this in mind, it may be necessary to sometimes adapt your sun bathing hours to factors such as skin type, weather conditions or geographical location to avoid the potential side effects such as sun burns or skin cancer.

How to sunbathe correctly?

By taking into consideration the following factors and variables:
1) Time of day and time of year. Experts say that, generally,¬†sunbathing is safest during summer before 11 a.m. and after 3-4 p.m. In other words, we have to avoid sunbathing in the middle of the day, when the sun is scorching hot (or when the shadow is shorter than our height). By avoiding this time span, we reduce our risk of getting sunburns and skin damage that may favor the development of skin cancer. Nevertheless, there are those who tell us to go out in the scorching midday sun during summer because that’s when we get the best tan and enjoy more of the good type of ultraviolet radiation that helps our skin produce more vitamin D. Also see the benefits of vitamin D.

But it’s not healthy for us to sunbathe in the middle of the day when we feel our skin too hot for comfort after only 10-15 minutes in the sun. At this point, no amount of sunscreen or sunblock can protect us from sun damage. And there isn’t really a good type of ultraviolet radiation because UVA, UVB and UVC (though the third¬†does not really pass through the atmosphere), despite favoring physical and mental health, have carcinogenic effects.

Sun exposure best time

Moreover, getting our vitamin D from sun exposure is a process in itself, one that requires constant exposure over short periods of time throughout hot summer days. Going outside for a short 30-40 minute walk or an errand during summer, while wearing short pants, short sleeves and a hat is enough exposure to help us produce significant amounts of vitamin D.

Things are a bit different during wintertime in the the northern hemisphere. Because of the cold weather and lack of sunlight, the best time to get a little sun is the middle of the day. And considering that low temperatures might not allow for short sleeves or short pants, we have to make sure we at least get some sun on our face and hands and further supplement to meet our daily needs.

2) Weather conditions. Sometimes, summer doesn’t feel or look like summer and winter doesn’t feel or look like winter either. Rainy days do not allow for any proper sun exposure, while cloudy skies don’t help us produce much vitamin D. For example, if it’s cloudy outside, then sunlight and sun radiation may not reach us at all (the cloudier it is, the less sun we enjoy). This means that enjoying some sun during the middle of a not-so-hot summer day is equivalent to sunbathing during the safe hours of a scorching hot day. We kind of have to adjust to the weather conditions during each season and try to guess the safest sunbathing hours according to the level of comfort we think we might experience after spending 10-15 minutes in¬†the sun.

3) Skin content of melanin. A crucial point to consider when sunbathing in general is our skin’s melanin content (see the super health benefits of melanin). Basically, the darker the skin, the more melanin it has. The lighter the skin, the less melanin it has. Melanin is a pigment that protects our skin from excessive sunlight radiation, but, at the same time, blocks vitamin D production. The more tanned our skin gets, the more melanin it concentrates and the less vitamin D it produces. This, however, does not necessarily mean that people with darker skin have a vitamin D deficiency or that people with fair skin produce too much of the nutrient. But it does indicate how our skin is most likely to respond to sun exposure and regulate vitamin D production.

What is interesting is that people with already darker skin are more responsive to sun exposure. For example, a person with darker skin is more likely to get tanned faster, often without sunburns (provided the exposure is moderate) and require less sun exposure and protection for it than a person with fair skin. A person with fair skin might need an overall lengthier sun exposure for similar health benefits, but will tend to get sunburns faster, tan very little or not at all, and require shorter, but more numerous sunbathing sessions. While a person with fair skin should always use sunscreen and absolutely avoid midday hours, a person with darker skin might linger 20 more minutes in the sun without worrying.

4) Use of sunscreen or sunblock and clothing choice. Experts advise everyone to use sunscreen or sunblock and remember to reapply it at regular intervals, after coming out of the water or using a towel to dry up. Fair-skinned people are the most sensitive because their low melanin content leaves them more exposed to sunburns and skin damage. Sunscreen and sunblock are crucial in cases of prolonged exposure to sunlight, even during the safe hours. But by blocking sun radiation, SPF lotions block vitamin D production as well. This is where clothing choice becomes important.

We can get our 20 minutes or so of sun and produce some vitamin by unintentionally exposing our arms, hands, part of our legs and face. Going to the store down the street for some snacks, having a lemonade on the porch in the morning or afternoon and other similar activities that do not require a bathing suit, but rather shorts and short sleeves can get us some sun exposure during summer without having to lather ourselves in sunscreen.

5) Geographical coordinates. Where we¬†live (or sunbathe) can influence the amount of sunlight radiation the earth receives and our skin absorbs. The closer we are to the Equator, the more sun we enjoy and the more likely we are to experience the side effects of too much or inadequate sun exposure.¬†In the mid-latitudes, exposure is problematic only during summer, when it’s best to avoid midday hours. The farther south¬†we go, the more sunlight and warmth there is and the more important safe sunbathing hours become.

6)¬†Age and state of health. There is great emphasis on children and the elderly getting enough sun to help with bone development and strength and good immunity. But the truth is we need to take in sufficient sun at all ages. It’s only that adults are believed¬†to already be aware of the importance of sun exposure¬†and get their time in the sun, as opposed to children or the elderly who may not be in the position to enjoy proper sun exposure without guidance or help. Moreover, it has been shown that sun exposure is particularly beneficial for those in poor health as a result of the immune-boosting effects of vitamin D. Nevertheless, keeping to safe sunbathing hours remains important, particularly for those who are already at risk for skin conditions such as melanoma.

This post was updated on Monday / July 20th, 2020 at 6:31 PM

14 thoughts on “Sun Exposure: What Is the Best Time for It?”

  1. The trick is simple. Sunbath for heat and vitamins for only 20 minutes a day. After that, no more vitamins are made. The skin is full; sun lunch is over.
    The best time to sun bath is at high noon. So, according to rule one (the first point) begin at 11:50 and quit at 12:10, am to pm, not the other way round or you won’t get your tan; and worse yet, the other’s the time vampires are on the loose hunting down skin.
    Early morn and late afternoon sun is at the worst angle and when damage occurs. Search it out; you’ll find this true.
    Your welcome.
    namaste and care,

    • You mention in the begging of the article that the best time to sunbathe is before 11 am and after 3 pm. By the end of true article you recommend sunbathing at noon. Please clarify. Thank you.

    • Hi, Haney. The comment does not belong to me. It was someone else who wrote it, stating their personal opinion. I stand by what I wrote, that it’s healthier to avoid sitting in the sun at noon when the sun radiation is at its strongest. Ideally, the best time for sun exposure is before 11 am and after 3-4 pm.

    • This comment is correct. This article has the exactly wrong advice. And if you do choose to use sunscreens, use a non-toxic mineral one, or you are slathering on cancer-causing agents. And the chemical spray-ons with nano particles are even worse.

    • You are entitled to your own opinion, Kerri. As such, you may sunbathe at any time you think is best. After all, it’s you that will have to live with the side effects. But expert studies show the noon hours are the most dangerous and highly likely to cause skin cancer. This is why it’s recommended to sunbathe in the morning and midday (before 11 a.m. and after 3-4 p.m.), never at noon. And I am not going to recommend anything else except what the experts say is good for you.
      The only point we agree on is that it’s best to use non-toxic sunscreen. Wishing you lots of health, Kerri.

  2. I am reading carefully… Very nice and very important.

    • Thank you, Zahid. Wishing you lots of health!

  3. So let’s say going to splash pad or lake or pool. Same rules apply, right, as water actually reflects the sun so you can get more sunburn, heat stroke going from 11 am till 3 cuz during this time the sun is at it hottest. It’s better to go in am or wait till after lunch and nap.

    • That’s right, Amberh: the same rules apply. It’s safest to go either before 11 am or after 3 pm or even 4 pm. You basically have to avoid staying in the sun from 11 am till 3 or 4 pm because that’s when the sun is at its hottest. It doesn’t matter if it’s the beach, a lake or riverside, a pool or splash pad: as long as it’s outdoors and the sun is hot, the best time for sun exposure is before 11 am or after 3 or 4 pm (depending on how strong the sun is). Wishing you lots of health!

  4. We must research far and wide, from all sides to a discussion of ‘facts’ and ‘habit’ if we are to understand what makes health.
    Since I posted my comment on the safest time for sunbathing for healthy skin, more research has come out that questions the safest time for sun exposure espoused by medical doctors and health practitioners.
    Namaste and care,

  5. Do we get any vitamin D benefit from sun exposure between 7 + 7.30 pm when the sun does not shine in the middle of June on the east coast of the US or is it rather late? Sometimes I don’t make time to get sun exposure earlier than 7pm and I wonder the answer to this.

    • Hi, Montse! How much vitamin D one gets from sun exposure depends on a host of factors (e.g. time of day, time of year/season, weather, whether it’s direct or indirect sun exposure, amount of sun exposure, current vitamin D requirements). If there is some sunlight, you will get to produce some vitamin D. How much exactly is difficult to tell. There are some things you can try to do to increase your sun exposure if you are worried you may not be getting enough of it and enough vitamin D. For example, during lunch break at work, you can go out on a balcony or outside the building to have your lunch and get some sun. You can try and squeeze in more time for outdoor activities or just plain old sunbathing during the weekend, or make sure you get plenty of sun when you’re on holiday. Fortunately, vitamin D is something we store so if there’s any chance of sun exposure and you take it, it will help improve your levels. Hope this helps and don’t forget to wear sunscreen!

  6. Thank you Marius Lixandru, well understood.

    • Happy I could help, Montse!

Comments are closed.