Suntan Lotion on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: On Shabbos or Yom Tov, is it permitted to use suntan lotion to prevent sunburn?

Discussion: Suntan lotion which is in cream, ointment or thick, slow-pouring oil form, is forbidden to be used on Shabbos, as it may be a violation of the Shabbos Labor of Smoothing.142 It is permitted, however, to use suntan protection which is in a liquid spray form, since Smoothing does not apply to runny, non-viscous liquids such as liquid spray.

Although there is a Rabbinic injunction against taking medicine on Shabbos, suntan protection is not considered medication, since its purpose is not to heal but to protect. It is similar to using insect repellent on Shabbos, which is permitted since its function is also not to heal but to protect.143

Taking medication for ordinary sunburn, however, even if it is in spray or liquid form, could be a violation of the Rabbinic injunction against taking medicine on Shabbos. In the atypical case where the sunburn is so severe that one feels “weak all over” or bad enough to require bed rest because of it, liquid or spray medication is permitted. If there is a chance that infection will set in, all medications and ointments are permitted to be used.

Note: Our discussion regarding suntan protection pertains to those who might get sunburned while fulfilling a Shabbos mitzvah, e.g., those who need to walk a long distance to shul on Shabbos. But to deliberately sit in the sun to get a suntan is not in keeping with the spirit of Shabbos, and indeed, is forbidden on halachic grounds by some contemporary poskim.144

142. Based on Da’as Torah, O.C. 328:26; Chazon Ish, O.C. 52:16 and Tzitz Eliezer 7:30-2.

143. Based on O.C. 328:23. See also Mishnah Berurah 301:108.

144. See Chelkas Yaakov 4:17; Minchas Yitzchak 5:32; Az Nidberu 2:30; Machazeh Eliyahu 65:24.