Everyone knows that too much sun exposure can cause skin damage, everything from sunburns to skin cancer. But how much do you know about the UV radiation that causes it? While you're out there in the sun this summer, don't forget to protect yourself from UV rays!
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the term for certain rays of energy given off by the sun, as well as artificial sources like tanning beds. UV radiation comes in multiple types, determined by their wavelength:
Ultraviolet A (UVA): Longer wavelengths that are not absorbed by the ozone layer. Penetrate deeper into your skin and can be present year-round, even in winter.
Ultraviolet B (UVB): Shorter wavelengths that are largely absorbed by the ozone layer. Stronger than UVA but much less present throughout the year.
So what does this radiation do? UV radiation has many effects, some beneficial and some harmful:
Produces vitamin D, a necessary mineral that helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus from food.
- Damages skin and causes sunburns.
- Prematurely ages skin.
Causes different types of skin cancer, such as many melanomas.
- Causes vision problems and eye damage.
Excessive exposure can suppress the immune system, enhancing the risk of infections.
It's important to get some sun exposure in order to produce vitamin D, and you don't need much.. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 5 to 15 minutes of sun exposure 2 to 3 times per week.
Who's at Risk
Everyone can get skin cancer, but risk increases in people who:
- Spend more time in the sun or have been sunburned.
- Have light hair, skin, and eyes.
- Have a family history of skin cancer.
- Is over age 50.
Your skin isn't the only thing that UV radiation can damage. Increased UV radiation exposure increases your chances of macular degeneration as well as cataracts. Wear sunglasses, tinted lenses on your glasses, or contacts with UV protection whenever possible.
Sun damage to your skin from UV radiation can increase your chances of skin cancers like melanoma. Some tips:
Limit sun exposure. Attempt to avoid the sun's intense rays between 10am and 4pm.
Avoid tanning beds. Just because it's an artificial light source doesn't make UV radiation any less dangerous. Those who begin indoor tanning at a young age increase their risk of melanoma.
Apply sunscreen every day. Use a sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, both before and every 60 to 80 minutes during outdoor exposure. You may need to apply it more often if swimming or sweating heavily. Select "broad-spectrum" products that filter both UVA and UVB light.
Use enough sunscreen. Most people apply only 25 to 50 percent of the recommended amount by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. Apply at least one ounce (a palmful) when applying it.
If you are likely to sunburn, wear a long sleeved shirt, pants and a wide brimmed hat. Make use of shade as often as possible.
Conduct monthly self exams. The best time to do these is right after a shower or bath, using a full length mirror and a hand held mirror in a bright room.