Do nude sunbathers need extra sun protection?

Hey Alice,

I plan to do some nude sunbathing this summer. What extra precautions should I take with the areas that have never seen the light of day? Should I use a higher SPF on my "naughty parts" than on, say, my arms and legs?

— Sunkissed

Dear Sunkissed,

Yes, indeed, total tanners, schmear those hot dogs, buns, and melons with UVA/UVB sunscreen lotions that list SPFs (sun protection factors) of at least 30. The Skin Cancer Foundation, American Academy of Dermatology, and American Cancer Society all recommend an SPF of at least 30. That said, many suntan lotions have SPFs of less than 15, and these will leave you and your sensitive areas unprotected from the sun's rays. Additionally, you may want to check the ingredients list before purchasing a sunscreen: the FDA currently recommends avoiding PABA and tolamine salicylate, since they aren't GRASE (generally regarded as safe), but these, or other ingredients that are unapproved by the FDA, may still be found in products at your local drugstore. When it comes to protecting those parts usually hidden by clothes, reapplying frequently can be one of your best bets. Sunscreen needs to be applied every two hours, regardless of your skin tone, and more often if you're swimming or doing activities that make you sweat.

As for the specifics, areas of the body such as the breasts, buttocks, thighs, and feet aren't more sensitive than other regions and can be slathered with body sunscreen just as you would your arms and legs. Genital areas, on the other hand, including the nipples, penis and vulva, are typically shielded from any UV rays by clothes and are more sensitive than their more regularly exposed neighbors. These areas are more similar to the face, with fewer, and softer, skin cell layers. The nipples may be protected slightly more than other genital areas from sun exposure due to more melanin being produced during puberty (which causes the darker ring of skin on the breasts). Despite this extra UV shield, nipples are more sensitive areas due to the extra nerve endings, similar to the penis or vulva, and all need to be protected with sunscreen. 

Because these genital areas are more sensitive, it's possible that body sunscreens may irritate them. To avoid this, keep your sunning area free of sand, dirt, or other debris may help to avoid irritation. Also, check the directions before using a sunscreen to make sure it can be used on sensitive skin and avoid excess sunscreen from entering the body by using only the amount needed. 

Naked and clothed sunbathers alike are wise to take along umbrellas, cover-up clothes, hats, sunglasses, and water to drink for even more protection. Most dermatologists recommend reducing and limiting your time in the sun, or, better yet, abstaining from deliberate bronzing altogether. 

For more information on protecting yourself from the summer (or winter!) sun, check out the related Q&As. Have fun in the sun!

Last updated Mar 18, 2022
Originally published May 06, 1999

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