The Department of Health and Human Services have named July as UV Safety Month.
Although this is timely because July is at the height of summer, we should be sun-smart all year round!
What is UV Radiation?
UV light, or UV radiation, typically comes from the sun. However, it can come from man made sources, such as tanning beds and welding torches.
According to the American Cancer Society, “Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun… Radiation is the emission (sending out) of energy from any source.”
The sun’s radiation is classified into three types; the classification is based on the length of the wavelength –
Our ozone layer can protect us against UVC rays, but UVA and UVB rays are able to penetrate the ozone layer. UVB rays are the type that are responsible for sunburns, while UVA causes wrinkles. Both types can cause damage to the skin, specifically by causing skin cancer.
Our biggest source of UV radiation is the sun. However, we are also exposed to UV radiation from blacklight lamps, welding torches, tanning beds, phototherapy, and mercury lamps.
Who is Most at Risk…
Unfortunately, our skin absorbs UV rays. However, everyone is affected differently by the sun’s rays.
Our skin contains melanin, cells that contain brown pigment. The amount of melanin we have determines the color of our skin, as well as how our skin reacts to sun exposure. This is because melanin helps to absorb UV rays. People with naturally darker skin may absorb UV rays and are less likely to become sunburned.
Aside from skin color, the following people are at a higher risk for developing skin cancer –
- Those who have had skin cancer before
- Those who have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
- Those who have many moles
- Those with many freckles
- Those with fair skin, blue or green eyes, or blond, red, or light brown hair
- Those who live or vacation in high altitudes, as well as those who live or vacation frequently in tropical climates
- Those with certain autoimmune conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
- Those who take medications that make them more susceptible to sunburns
A Bit About Skin Cancer…
There are several different types of skin cancers.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. These are most common on the head, neck, and arms – but they can grow anywhere. This type of skin cancer is most frequently found in people with fair skin; the tumors are flesh-colored or pink.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. These cancers are most common where there is sun exposure, such as the ears, chest, back, face, and neck. They often appear as scaly patches or sores that do not heal.
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because it tends to spread. This is why early diagnosis is so important. This type of cancer can develop from a previous mole – or it can appear suddenly.
How to Protect Against UV Radiation
UV radiation is strongest midday; this is because the sun’s rays are strongest at this point. It is also important to note that the rays are stronger during the summer months. The rays can also reflect on snow, sand, and water, and are stronger at higher altitudes.
There are various things that you can do to minimize your skin cancer risk –
- Hang out in the shade! Seek shade underneath a tree or bring an umbrella to the beach.
- Wear long-sleeves and pants whenever possible. Wearing clothing made from tightly woven fabrics can offer some protection. There is even some clothing that has built-in UV protection. Clothing is not enough, though – a t-shirt only offers an SPF rating of 15 or less.
- Wearing a hat with a wide brim is recommended. Ideally, the brim should provide protection to your face and ears.
- Sunglasses protect the eyes from UV rays; they also protect from cataracts as well as the thin skin surrounding the eyes. Most sunglasses protect against UVA and UVB rays.
Sunscreen is the gold standard when it comes to protecting our skin. They work by absorbing, scattering, or reflecting light. All sunscreens contain a sun protection factor (SPF) that rates its effectiveness in blocking UV rays.
- Consider wearing an SPF 15 or higher.
- Sunscreen should be applied, even on cloudy days.
- Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin.
- Sunscreen should be applied every two hours; it should also be applied after swimming, sweating, and toweling off.
- Don’t forget to check the expiration date!
Are some people more likely to get skin damage from the sun? (2019, July 29). American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/be-safe-in-sun/sun-damage.html
Sun safety. (2020, April 9). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm
Types of skin cancer. (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/types/common
Ultraviolet radiation. (2019, July 10). American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/uv-radiation.html