Sunlight is certainly beneficial for our skin, but too much fun under the sun can also lead to life-threatening consequences. The sun's beautiful rays emit dangerous Ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can harm your skin and body. According to the Skin Care Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer by age 70, and at least two people diagnosed die every day from unrepairable damage.
Thankfully, there are simple steps you can take to reduce your risk for skin cancer and other sun-related health conditions. Preparation for your days under the sun to reduce direct and prolonged exposure is key. Understanding why UV rays are harmful and learning about the different types of sun damage can help you choose the best protection for you and your family, putting the worry of unhealthy exposure to rest.
To help spread awareness about UV dangers and the preventative measures available, July has been deemed UV Safety Month. The focus of this campaign aims to educate the public on the long-term and life-threatening consequences that can result from UV rays and what you can do in your home to reduce your risks to help you enjoy the summer season.
What is UV Ray?
UV radiation, as defined by the American Cancer Society, is a form of electromagnetic radiation originating from the sun or produced by an artificial source, such as a welding torch or tanning bed. There are several types of radiation ranging in severity from low energy (radio waves) to high energy (x-ray scans).
UV rays are considered moderate in severity. They contain less visible light than x-ray scans, but result in more severe health complications than low-frequency rays. UV rays are categorized into three groups based on energy intensity:
- UVA rays- These are the least severe of UV rays leading to aging skin cells, skin damage and certain types of skin cancer.
- UVB rays- These UV rays are stronger than UVA and are the precursors to sunburns and most skin cancers.
- UVC rays- While these are the strongest and most dangerous of all UV rays, UVC rays are too high in the atmosphere to reach the ground. However, UVC rays can be artificially produced, emitting from manufactured torches, lamps, and bulbs that are used to kill bacteria.
Natural UV rays originate from the sun. But, as mentioned above, when discussing UVC rays, there are several types of artificial sources that can result in UV exposure that is sometimes more harmful than direct sunlight. These include:
- Sunbeds and sun lamps used in tanning booths
- Black-light lamps
- Phototherapy (UV therapy) used for psoriasis
- Mercury-vapor lamps
- Plasma torches
- Welding arcs
Health consequences of UV Ray Exposure
The most common health condition resulting from exposure to UV radiation is skin cancer. The type of UV rays, length of exposure, and the genetic makeup of a person’s body will ultimately determine the type of cancer and prognosis of recovery. The American Cancer Society reports these most common types of skin cancer associated with UV exposure:
- Basal Cell
- Squamous Cell
Studies cited by the American Cancer Society found that while basal and squamous cell skin cancers are directly linked to UV exposure from the sun overtime, melanoma– a more deadly type of skin cancer– is a result of prolonged periods of sun exposure, bad sunburns, and often correlates with signs of sun damage including the following:
- Leathery skin
- Liver spots
- Solar elastosis (thick, yellowing skin)
- Actinic keratoses (rough, scaly skin)
The American Cancer Society reported that studies have also shown that increased sun exposure can result in a weakened immune system. Individuals with weakened immune systems have increased difficulty fighting off infections, which can be particularly dangerous in a hospital or other medical facility where bacteria and diseases are frequently present.
UV Safety Month Resources
The purpose behind UV Safety Month is not just to remind Americans that UV rays are harmful but to remind the public of the precautions they can take to reduce their sun exposure this summer. Most of these steps are simple, despite the life-threatening results that can occur without them. The best place to start is knowing the facts and planning your day based on your knowledge of the sun’s strength and position in the sky.
While every day is different, the most intense part of the day for UV exposure from the sun is between 10 am to 4 pm. This does not mean UV rays are absent before or after this period, but your risk for severe exposure and uptake is far lower.
Depending on your activity level, weather conditions, and temperature/humidity levels, here are the most effective safety steps to further reduce your sun exposure this summer:
- Cover your skin: Wear lightweight clothing, hats, sunglasses, and other protective sun gear to reduce your skin’s exposure to UV light.
- Use shade: If it’s too hot and humid to wear a lot of clothing, utilize shaded areas, umbrellas, tents, and covered areas to stay out of the sun.
Wear sunscreen: Sunscreen on a very hot day, especially when involved in water activities, is often the last protection between your skin and the sun. Make sure to pick the right sunscreen for your day with an SPF of at least 15 that protects against UV-A and UV-B, and reapply as instructed.
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