Pool and beach season is upon us and it is important to take steps to protect yourself! While there are some benefits of UV rays, like promoting vitamin D production which is particularly good in the work-from-home age, UV rays are most often associated with sun exposure and can cause sunburn and more serious damage, like cancer. So, what are the hazards of UV light?
What are UV lights?
Ultra Violet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun and other man-made sources, like tanning beds. UV rays are categorized into three types:
- UVA rays have the least amount of energy, though they can penetrate through the ozone layer, the Earth’s protective gaseous layer. UVA rays are associated with skin cell deterioration that causes wrinkles and aging. They are also associated with skin cancer.
- UVB rays are generally absorbed by the ozone layer but some rays can reach the Earth’s surface. They have more energy than UVA rays and are the main rays that cause sunburn. They are also linked to many types of skin cancers.
- UVC rays from the sun are entirely absorbed by the ozone layer and pose little risk to people. Unfortunately, UVC rays can be emitted from certain manmade sources like welding torches.
Hazards of UV Exposure
UV overexposure can be extremely dangerous. According to the Health Physics Society, “Accidental UV overexposure can injure unaware victims due to the fact UV [light] is invisible and does not produce an immediate reaction.… Reported UV accident scenarios often involve work near UV [light] sources with protective coverings removed, cracked, or fallen off. Depending on the intensity of the UV [light] source and length of exposure, an accident victim may end up with a lost-time injury even though unaware of the hazardous condition.”
In the United States, there are more cases of skin cancer than prostate, colon, breast, and lung cancer combined. Approximately 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. Unprotected overexposure to UV lights is the primary preventable risk factor in most skin cancers. Regularly have your dermatologist check for warning signs of skin cancer.
Premature Aging and Other Skin Damage
Sun exposure can cause thick, tough, and wrinkled skin. This kind of damage generally develops years after exposure. Up to 90% of skin changes with age can be attributed to sun damage. Additionally, sunburn is attributed to UV rays.
Overexposure to UV rays can cause cataracts and other forms of eye damage. Cataracts are a form of eye damage in which a loss of transparency in the lens of the eye clouds vision. While cataracts are curable with modern eye surgery, they can lead to blindness if left untreated. Additionally, overexposure to UV lights can cause Pterygium, which is a tissue growth that blocks vision, and degeneration of the macula, the part of the retina where visual perception is most accurate.
How to Protect Yourself
Luckily, there are many ways that you can protect yourself and your loved ones from the hazards of UV lights.
- Avoid spending much time in the sun during midday hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), especially during the summer months. UV rays are most potent and dangerous in the middle of the day. To avoid unnecessary exposure, try to stay in the shade during these hours of the day.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants. Wearing clothing that covers your skin at all times during the year can prevent overexposure to UV rays.
- Wear a large brim hat that covers your face and neck. Wearing a hat can protect your face, ears, neck, and head from damage, as these are parts of the body that are not covered by shirts and pants.
- Wear sunscreen on exposed skin that has an SPF of 15 or more. The CDC recommends wearing sunscreen on exposed skin every day. The higher the SPF, the more protection you will receive, but it is important to remember that all sunscreens need to be reapplied about every 2 hours.
- Use glasses, sunglasses, or contacts with 99% or 100% UVA and UVB protection. Wearing protective eyewear can prevent eye damage from UV rays, like cataracts and cancer around the eyes.
- Check your preferred weather app or channel. Most weather apps can tell you what the UV index will be on any particular day. This can help you to plan your day around protecting yourself from harsh UV rays.
- Avoid indoor tanning beds, particularly at a young age. Tanning beds are incredibly dangerous, especially for teens and young adults. Alternatively, use self-tanner or spray tanning to achieve the same look.
Use some of these tactics to protect yourself from the hazards of UV lights!
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