Sun safety is important year-round, but especially in the spring and summer seasons when the ultraviolet rays (UV) rays are more robust. The sun’s rays are nourishing and provide us with vital vitamin D, but too much — even as little as 15 minutes — can be harmful to your body and your skin.
Skin cancer affects roughly five million people yearly in the US resulting in 15,000 deaths per year. At Huneycutt Family Medicine, our family practice focuses on prevention now for our patients in hopes of living a full-life in health and wellness. Most forms of skin cancer are highly preventable when practicing sun safety. Follow along in today’s post, and learn or refresh your knowledge on sun safety!
The Culprit: UV Rays
The sun produces a large and vast spectrum of rays, but the two that are able to penetrate our atmosphere and our bodies are UVA and UVB rays.
Think of UVA rays as the “A” standing for aging. These rays cause long-term damage to our skin and are roughly 95 percent of the UV rays that reach the earth — so throughout our lifetime we absorb a lot of these. They are of equal intensity during daylight hours and can penetrate both glass and clouds. UVA rays have the ability to permeate our skin more deeply and is infamous for causing premature skin aging through fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. Over the past few decades, research has found that UVA rays assist in the initial development of skin cancer.
UVA is also responsible for the tan (or sunburn) from the sun and damages the skin and DNA on a cellular level. The darkening of the skin from a tan is actually the body’s attempt to prevent damage, as these changes can lead to skin mutations that then lead to skin cancer.
UVB can be attributed to burning, thus think of the “B” as standing for burning. These rays don’t penetrate as deeply as UVA rays and effect more of the superficial epidermal skin layers. This is the primary ray that causes skin cancer as well as its role in skin damage, and its intensity will waiver from season to season, time of day, and location. The strongest UVB rays are present in daylight between 10 am and 4 pm in the months of April through October.
Environmental Factors That Affect UV Rays
Altitude – At higher altitudes, especially here in Colorado, the UV rays reach the atmosphere and has less of an opportunity to absorb the rays, leaving you more susceptible to sunburn — and more quickly.
Surface Reflectivity – Things such as glass, clouds, rain, snow, sand, and metal all reflect the sun and can increase the sun’s rays, causing sunburn. Most people think that on a cloudy day the sun is absent so its rays can’t penetrate, but this is far from the truth! Cumulus clouds actually increase the reflectivity of the sun.
Ozone – The ozone plays an important role in our atmosphere as it absorbs a large number of UV rays, however, the ozone has been on a decline and depleting worldwide, resulting in more UV rays being able to penetrate our atmosphere.
Some other factors that can increase your sensitivity to the sun causing damage are a variety of prescription drugs, some essential oils and herbs, foods, and skin care products. It’s imperative that you educate yourself and familiarize with the side effects of any medications that you are on to help prevent sunburn.
The sun’s ray are bittersweet — they can be so relaxing and rejuvenating, but with too much exposure, extremely damaging. Keep in mind that these are the two most harmful rays: UVA for aging and skin damage and UVB for burning and the type that causes most skin cancers.