Background  A great number of journeys to sunny destinations are sold to the Danish population every year. We suspect that this travel considerably increases personal annual ultraviolet-radiation (UVR) exposure doses. This is important because such exposure is the main cause of skin cancer, and studies have shown a correlation between intermittent solar UVR exposure and malignant melanoma.

Objectives  To prospectively monitor the behaviour of a group of sun seekers during a winter sun holiday and to study the impact of behaviour on personal UVR exposure doses.

Methods  In this observational study 25 Danish sun seekers were closely monitored by on-site investigators for 6 days during a winter sun holiday in the Canary Islands, thus avoiding the possible recall bias of retrospective studies with questionnaires. The volunteers recorded their location, clothing and sunscreen use in diaries, and their UVR doses were measured by personal UVR dosimeters worn on the wrist. This resulted in 3450 half-hour registrations during 150 participation days.

Results  On average, each volunteer received a total UVR dose of 57 standard erythema doses over 6 days, which is 43% of the annual UVR dose of a Danish indoor worker. Their exposed body area, sunscreen use and percentage of body with sunscreen application were positively correlated with their personal UVR doses, and there was also a strong relationship between location and UVR doses received.

Conclusions  The behaviour of the volunteers had a major impact on their personal UVR doses. Our results emphasize the importance of changing the behaviour of sun seekers with protanning attitudes to reduce their personal annual UVR exposure doses, and possibly their risk of skin cancer.