Gloomy, gray skies aren't a crowd favorite, but you may appreciate cloudy days for the fact that you get to skip the sunscreen—or do you? It can be tempting to forgo your skin care routine (and stay in your sweatpants) on darker days, but never underestimate the power of the sun.

You may assume that the sun can't reach you from behind a thick layer of clouds. If you can't see the sun or feel its warmth, can you get a sunburn on a cloudy day? The short answer is yes. Some types of clouds reduce your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays more than others, but no cloud blocks them all. So, protecting your skin from the elements should be a daily habit—no exceptions.

Can You Get a Sunburn on a Cloudy Day?

You know you need to wear sunscreen on sunny days at the beach to prevent sunburn. But it's less common knowledge that you need to wear sunscreen on cold, cloudy days as well. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you even need sun protection when it's snowing. That's because clouds block some—but not all—UV light, leaving your skin susceptible to sunburn and long-term sun damage.

Portrait of woman looking up to the sky

Do Clouds Stop UV Rays?

The sun provides light, energy, and a healthy dose of Vitamin D. However, too much radiation from the sun can lead to skin damage, sunburn, and even skin cancer. On a clear day, the sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. But your skin can still burn on a cloudy day and outside of these hours.

So, to what extent do clouds stop UV rays? As you might expect, UV levels are highest on a clear day with no clouds in sight. This suggests that clouds generally lessen UV strength. For example, researchers have found that thick clouds can strongly reduce UVB rays (which are responsible for sunburns), especially when it's raining.

However, in some cases, clouds actually enhance UV rays. When clouds are light, UVB rays can increase by up to 25 percent. American Scientist suggests this may be due to how certain cloud types reflect light, observing that the UV index is sometimes higher than predicted when the clouds roll in.

How Can You Protect Your Skin Rain or Shine?

To reduce your risk of sunburn, skin cancer, and sun damage, protect your skin from sunlight 365 days a year. Just because you can't see or feel the sun doesn't mean its light isn't reaching you. Here are a few tips to prevent sunburns on days you least expect them.

Check the UV Index

The UV index is a helpful tool that measures the level of UV radiation depending on several factors, including the season, time of day, and where you live. You should still take precautionary measures when the UV index is low, but you may be surprised to find the UV index higher than you expected on cold or cloudy days.

Apply Sunscreen Daily

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends wearing sunscreen every single day, no matter the weather. Wearing sunscreen is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your exposure to the sun's harmful UV rays. Choose a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection and is labeled SPF 30 or greater.

If you're planning to play sports or are anticipating an especially active day, opt for a water-resistant formula like EltaMD UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44. This 100 percent mineral sunscreen stays put for up to 40 minutes of swimming or heavy sweating. It also packs in Hyaluronic Acid to attract and retain moisture, which can be especially helpful on those cooler, drier days of the year. Whichever sunscreen you choose, remember to reapply every two hours when spending time outdoors.

Practice Sun Safety

Sunscreen is an essential part of protecting your skin from the sun's harmful rays, but it's just one piece of your overarching sun protection strategy. CDC also recommends seeking shade, wearing sun-protective clothing, and donning sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats.

Sunscreen through the Seasons

Don't let cloudy days steal your skin's radiance. Not only can you get a sunburn on cloudy days, but UVA rays remain constant throughout the year. These rays are responsible for premature aging, such as wrinkles and age spots. So, no matter the weather forecast, find your perfect broad-spectrum sunscreen and get into the routine of applying it daily. This way you're always covered—especially when you need it the most.


  • Lacey Muinos

    Lacey is a Southern California-based freelance writer who combines her passions—fitness, health, and a vegan lifestyle—with her work to help readers feel and be their best. Her work has been featured in Healthline, Livestrong, Verywell Fit, Eat This Not That, KinderBeauty, and more.

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