Make handprint art using ultraviolet light!

an illustration of the sun and a cloud above a beach scene

The sun is a big ball of energy that constantly sends heat and visible light toward Earth. This keeps our planet warm and comfortable for living things. But the sun also sends energy toward Earth in the form of ultraviolet light.

We can’t see ultraviolet, or UV, light with our eyes, but we can see and feel some of its effects:


  • Ultraviolet light from the sun can fade the colors of paper and fabric. The chemicals in colored dyes can break down in the presence of ultraviolet light waves.

  • Ultraviolet light can also cause sunburns. If too much ultraviolet light hits your skin, it can damage your skin cells. This can make your skin very red and painful.

However, certain chemicals can provide protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. For example, sunscreen contains chemicals that can reflect or absorb ultraviolet light. This keeps the ultraviolet light from reaching—and damaging—your skin cells.

In this activity, see for yourself how sunscreen can be used to block the sun’s ultraviolet light rays.


What you need:

a photo of construction paper, sunscreen, and rocks on a table top

  • Construction paper (red or green works best)

  • Sunscreen (a brand that is at least SPF 30 and doesn't contain metal oxides works best)

  • Rocks or other small, heavy objects

  • A sunny spot outside


What to do:

  1. Open the sunscreen and squirt a pea-sized amount onto your hand.

  2. squirting a pea-sized amoung of sunscreen onto a hand
  3. Rub the sunscreen all over the palms of your hands and the surfaces of your fingers. Don’t rub it in so much that the sunscreen all absorbs into your skin. You should still barely see the thin layer of sunscreen on your hands.

  4. rubbing sunscreen between hands palms of hands turned upward showing a thin layer of sunscreen

  5. Place your hands firmly on the construction paper. Be sure to press down all of your fingers and the palms of your hands.

  6. hands placed palm-side-down on a piece of red construction paper

  7. Place the piece of construction paper outside in a sunny spot. Make sure that the spot you choose will have constant sunlight for 3 to 4 hours.

  8. Place a small rock on each corner of the sheet of paper. This will prevent the paper from blowing away in the wind.

  9. construction paper with wet sunscreen handprints placed in the sun with small rocks on the four corners of the paper

  10. Leave the paper out in the sun for 3 to 4 hours.

  11. After the long wait is over, go outside and look at your paper. You should notice that the sun’s UV rays have faded the color of the paper. However, the areas that were protected from UV rays by the sunscreen still have the original bold color.

  12. A piece of construction paper that is faded, except for two bold red handprints. There are four small rocks in each corner of the paper.


Download a PDF of this activity.

article last updated March 22, 2017
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