Enjoy the summer, safely.
Posted July 9, 2020
It’s July and summer is underway! Sunshine and warm weather mean more time outside. While enjoying the outdoors, don’t forget to protect yourself. Harmful UV rays can burn and lead to long-term skin damage, including wrinkling, premature age spots, and worse – skin cancer. That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has named July UV Safety Month.
Starting in the spring, when the sun begins to climb higher in the sky, exposure to UV radiation increases. The length of exposure time, protective clothing, special gear, and sunscreen can protect the skin from damage.
While the main source of UV radiation is sunlight, man-made sources, such as sunlamps and tanning beds, black-light lamps, phototherapy equipment, and welding torches also emit UV radiation that can pose lasting damage to your skin and health.
Radiation occurs across a broad spectrum of wavelengths, from very high-frequency (X-ray) to low-energy wavelengths (radio waves). UV radiation lies in the middle of the spectrum and is divided into three main types – UVA, UVB, and UVC. The differences are described as follows:
- UVA radiation from the Sun makes up approximately 95 percent of the UV rays that reach the earth. UVA radiation causes skin cells to age and can result in indirect damage to DNA. UVA rays are mainly linked to long-term skin damage such as wrinkles, but can play a role in some skin cancers.
- UVB radiation from the Sun makes up approximately 5 percent of the UV rays that reach the earth. UVB rays have slightly more energy than UVA rays, are the main cause of sunburn, and can have a direct impact on DNA in skin cells. UVB rays are also thought to cause most skin cancers.
- UVC radiation has more energy than other types of UV radiation. Fortunately, as a result, UVC rays react with the ozone high in our atmosphere and never reach the ground. That means they are not typically a risk factor for skin cancer. But UVC radiation can also come from man-made sources like arc-welding equipment, mercury lamps, and UV sanitizing bulbs that are used to kill bacteria and other germs in water, air, food, or on surfaces.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has used available data to determine that solar radiation is carcinogenic to humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone can get skin cancer. But if you spend more time outside, are over the age of 50, or have a family history of skin-related cancers, your risk is higher.
The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell, which are usually found on the head, face, neck, hands, and arms – areas of the body most often exposed to UV rays while in the sun. Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer and is also linked to sun exposure.
Protecting your skin while working outside or grilling in the yard is as important as applying sunscreen at the beach or while playing sports. Helpful protection tips for venturing out on these hot summer days include:
- Wearing sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher. Make sure it inhibits UVA and UVB rays. Apply it before going out in the sun and re-apply after swimming or sweating.
- Staying in the shade or avoid going out between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – the peak timeframe for exposure to UV rays.
- Protecting yourself with long-sleeve shirts and full-length pants and clothing made of fabric with a high Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). A UPF indicates how much UV radiation (both UVB and UVA) a fabric will allow to reach your skin. For example, a UPF 50 fabric blocks 98 percent of UV rays and allows two percent (1/50th) to penetrate the fabric. A UPF 50 reduces your exposure risk significantly. A UPF 30 to UPF 49 offers very good protection, while UPF 50+ offers excellent protection.
- Wearing wide brim hats that provide coverage to your face and neck.
- Wearing sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays to protect your eyes from other forms of sun damage, like macular degeneration.
As you spend more time outside this summer, adopt these habits to protect your skin and eyes as part of your daily routine. Taking a few extra steps to avoid the damage of those harmful UV rays will surely lead to more fun and a healthier you.
For more information on skin cancer and the dangers of UV radiation, visit The American Cancer Society, the CDC, and the Skin Cancer Foundation.