It's tempting to skip the sunscreen on a cloudy day. Many assume that if the sun is not shining, they can't get a sunburn due to the overcast skies. If you can't see the sun, you may wonder, can you get sunburn through clouds? The short answer is yes, though some types of clouds reduce the exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays more than others. Regardless of how thick the clouds are, protecting your skin from the elements is a healthy habit to establish.

Your skin is still at risk of sunburn on a cloudy day, so it's important to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen even when the sun is hiding. The UV index can still be high on a forecast day, so it's better to reduce your exposure to the sun regardless of the weather conditions.

Getting a Sunburn Through Clouds

The sun gives us light, energy, and a healthy dose of vitamin D, but too much radiation from the sun can lead to skin damage, sunburn, and even skin cancer. One way to protect skin from the negative effects of the sun is by applying broad-spectrum protection. However, there is a misconception that sunscreen is only necessary on days with clear, sunny skies.

On a clear day, the sun's rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The organization notes that skin can still sunburn on a cloudy day and outside of these hours.

As one might expect, UV levels are highest on a clear day with no clouds in sight. This suggests that clouds do have a slight effect on UV levels, but the Centers faor Disease Control states that clouds do not block UV rays in any reliable way. Researchers have found that thick clouds, especially when it's raining, can strongly reduce UVB rays. When clouds are light, however, UVB rays are increased by up to 25 percent. This may be due to the focused light reflection of certain cloud types, per American Scientist, who observed UV index to sometimes be higher than predicted on cloudy days.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes this and recommends wearing sunscreen daily, given that up to 80 percent of UV rays can penetrate through clouds and 85 percent of sunlight can reflect off of sand, concrete, water, and snow.

Applying Sunscreen Every Day

Even when the sky is gray and cloudy, you should apply sunscreen as a daily habit. This is one of the most effective ways to protect your skin against the harmful effects of sun exposure, rain or shine. Unfortunately, the sun's rays can't be detected with the naked eye, so you have to protect your skin in the case they are present.

According to Cleveland Clinic, too much sun exposure can cause the following changes in the skin:

  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Discoloration and hyperpigmentation
  • Dilation of small blood vessels under the skin
  • Precancerous and cancerous skin lesions
  • Benign tumors
  • Loss of elasticity

Skin cancer is a very real risk of sun exposure, and seeing as the Cleveland Clinic estimates 80 percent of lifetime sun exposure happens before the age of 18, sun protection is especially important for children and teenagers.

No matter your age or the forecast, get into the routine of applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen on a daily basis so you're always covered—especially when you need it the most.