The Dangers of Sun Exposure

Written By Jamie Hall

Dangers of Sun Exposure

Now that we are in the middle of the summer months with the sun at its strongest, it is important to remember to protect yourself from too much sun exposure. Too much sun exposure permits the sun’s ultraviolet rays to reach the inner layers of skin, causing sunburn. This can cause skin cells to die or be damaged which can lead to premature skin aging and skin damage. Also, by damaging the skin’s cellular DNA, excessive UV radiation produces genetic mutations that can lead to skin cancer. According to WebMD, skin cancer is actually the most prevalent form of all cancers in the United States with the number of cases continuing to rise. More than 90% of skin cancers are caused by too much sun exposure. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have identified UV radiation as a proven human carcinogen. These facts are important to keep in mind whether you are heading to the beach for a vacation or even just doing some yard work around the house.

Types of UV Rays

There are two types of ultraviolet rays to be careful of: UVA and UVB. UVA rays are longer and penetrate deep into the skin and cause long-term skin damage, aging, and wrinkles. UVB rays are shorter and are responsible for causing superficial burns to the skin. Both UVA and UVB rays can play a role in the development of skin cancer. When choosing a sunscreen, be sure it is labeled “broad-spectrum” to protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

Understanding the UV Index

A good way to determine whether there may be a risk for UV exposure is to check the UV index. The UV index is based on a scale that ranges from 0 to 11+. A UV index reading of 0 to 2 means low danger from the sun’s UV rays for an average person. A reading of 3 to 5 means moderate risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. A reading of 6 to 7 means there is a high risk of harm and protection against skin and eye damage is necessary. A UV reading of 8 to 10 means there is a very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure and extra precautions are necessary to avoid skin and eye damage. There are many readily available online sources such as the weather channel and local news stations that provide the UV index for your specific location.

What to Do to Protect Yourself from the Sun

  1. Cover up using clothing that blocks light.
  2. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or higher to block harmful rays on areas of skin that remain exposed to the sun. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or more often if swimming.
  3. If possible, limit time in the sun during peak hours. The ultraviolet rays of the sun are most intense between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  4. Wear a hat with a large brim to cover the scalp, ears, and neck.
  5. Wear sunglasses. People often forget about the damage that UV rays can do to their eyes, but your eyes can actually be sunburned too. Be sure to choose sunglasses that block 99-100% of UVA and UVB light.
  6. Parents should also remember to make sure their children are adequately protected from the sun’s harmful rays while playing outdoors.
  7. Don’t forget about pets. Dogs can actually get sunburn too on areas like their nose, ears, and other areas that are not protected by fur.