I have a complex relationship with the sun, as do most of us who are aware of what too much unprotected exposure can do to our bodies. While it can feel warm and comforting, unprotected exposure can damage your skin and over time lead to skin cancer. Because of this, it is important to understand what UV rays are, how they affect us, and how we can live sun-safe alongside them.
There are 3 types of UV radiation, UVA, UVB & UVC. While UVC is the most damaging ray, it is completely filtered by the atmosphere and does not reach the Earth’s surface. The rays you need to worry about are UVA & UVB. Both UVA and UVB penetrate the basal layer of the epidermis–where most skin cancers occur–and play an important role in conditions like premature skin aging, eye damage (including cataracts), basal cell carcinoma and even melanoma. UV radiation is invisible to the naked eye, which makes being aware of its presence easy to forget. Here are some facts to help encourage you to remember:
- UVA rays account for 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface
- Although less powerful than UVB rays, UVA rays are 30-50 times more prevalent
- UVA radiation is the dominant tanning ray (a tan is a direct result from injury to our skin’s DNA)
- UVA radiation has been linked to premature aging, wrinkles and sun spots
- UVB radiation, also know as the “burning rays” are the chief cause of sunburns
- UVB rays play a role in the development of skin cancer, as well as suppression of the immune system
- A positive effect of UVB exposure is that it prompts the making of vitamin D. *Another way to receive Vitamin D naturally without risk of sun damage is through eating foods such as salmon, trout, tuna, fortified milk, and certain mushrooms
- The most significant amount of UVB hits the United States from April to October between 10 AM and 4 PM (although you can develop damage year-round).
*Please see the infographic below for more on UV radiation.
Source: Skin Cancer Foundation