As the weather gets warmer, you spend more time outdoors. Enjoying sunny days certainly has its emotional benefits, but it also comes with its share of downsides. Sun exposure damages your skin and can lead to burning or peeling in the short term. Over time and without UV protection, however, you may even develop significant damage and symptoms of skin cancer. Although the dangers of sun exposure are highly recognizable, it’s important to learn more about why the sun causes skin damage in the first place.
What Is UV Radiation?
Ultraviolet radiation (UV), according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, is a part of the light spectrum the sun emits. Because it has shorter wavelengths than visible light, you can’t see UV radiation, and there are three known types: UVA, UVB and UVC. Due to its shorter wavelength, most UVC rays are absorbed by Earth’s ozone layer, and do not reach the Earth’s surface. When others reach your skin, they penetrate through the outer layers and ultimately damage your cells. Long-term exposure can produce mutations that lead to skin cancer.
UVA vs. UVB
Although both of these UV rays damage your skin, they have different effects. UVA radiation accounts for most of the radiation that reaches your skin. Because they penetrate your skin more deeply than UVB rays, according to the National Institutes of Health, they have long been known to play a significant role in aging, wrinkling and cell damage. Tanning booths primarily use these UVA rays.
UVB rays are the chief cause of burning, because they damage the outer layers of your skin. This type of radiation also plays a significant role in skin cancer, and the intensity of these rays varies with season, time of day and your location. Even though you are exposed to the most significant amounts of UVB from April to October, your skin can become damaged year-round, especially at higher altitudes and in the winter, due to reflective surfaces like snow and ice.
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Limiting UV Exposure
Because UVA rays penetrate glass, consider adding UV-protective film to your car’s windows. This film blocks radiation without decreasing visibility.
When you’re outside, dress to limit UV exposure. You can actually purchase sun-protective clothes with an ultraviolet protection factor of 30 or greater. Even wearing brightly-colored clothes provides some protection over pastels and bleached cottons. Wear a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses that shield your eyes from direct sunlight.
Ultimately, your best option to prevent skin damage is to wear sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen is available with sun protection factors (SPF) of 15 and greater. SPF indicates how long it takes UVB rays to redden skin while wearing it, so higher SPF-value sunscreens are best. The World Health Organization recommends wearing an SPF of at least 15 or higher for adequate UV protection.
Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.