Although our sun is the major life-giving force in our solar system, its rays can be incredibly damaging. One of the most common adverse health effects of too much sun exposure is skin cancer. While there are many different ways of protecting oneself from the sun, staying out of it is probably the best method. However, for many of us, this may not be an option. So, instead, we should all take a few precautions to ensure that our exposure is limited.
The ultraviolet radiation, or UV radiation, that comes from the sun is a known carcinogen (cancer causing agent). There are two types of UV radiation that can affect the skin – UVA and UVB. Both have been linked to skin cancer and a weakening of the immune system. Another known side effect of exposure to UVA and UVB radiation is premature aging of the skin and cataracts (which impairs eyesight). UVA rays are not absorbed by our earth’s ozone layer and therefore penetrate deep into the skin. Close to 90% of the visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by exposure to UVA rays. UVB rays are partially absorbed by the ozone layer; mostly affect the surface of the skin, which means they are the primary cause of sunburn.
Some people are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of the sun, but everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity is subject to the potential adverse effects of overexposure to the sun. A person’s skin type can affect the degree to which they burn and the time it takes to burn, but everyone should use precautions when outdoors. Sunscreen protects your skin by absorbing and/or reflecting UVA and UVB rays. All sunscreens must contain a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) label. The SPF tells the relative amount of sunburn protection that a sunscreen can provide an average person when it is used correctly. It is recommended that a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15 is used. Be sure to choose a sunscreen that gives “broad-spectrum” protection, meaning it protects from both UVA and UVB rays.
There are both chemical and physical ingredients in sunscreen that work to protect your skin. The chemical ingredients, usually avobenzone or benzophenone, absorb UVA and UVB radiation. While the physical ingredients, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, reflect and scatter UVA and UVB rays.
Before heading outside be sure to listen to the weather report (or check online) and take notice of the UV index for the day. The UV index is a standardized measurement of how strong the UV radiation from the sun will be for that day. The scale is rated from 0-11 and public health organizations recommend that you take precautions when the UV index is at 3 or higher.
Sun protection doesn’t stop at sunscreen alone. Be sure to follow these sun-safe tips and have an enjoyable, burn-free summer!
1. DO NOT BURN!
2. Avoid sun tanning and tanning beds
3. Wear protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat
4. Seek shade
5. Generously apply sunscreen and follow the directions on the bottle (reapply at a frequency stated on the label)
6. Watch for the UV index and ensure you limit the amount of time in the sun during peak hours
7. Use extra caution when near reflective surfaces, such as water, snow and sand.