The sun emits radiation in the form of ultraviolet light commonly termed UV. This radiation is classified as three distinct types based on the wavelength of each form.
UVC is the shortest wavelength and doesn’t reach us on Earth’s surface because our protective ozone layer which (mostly) covers the earth blocks out all UVC light. UVA and UVB do however, pass through the ozone layer and this is troublesome since it is known that UVA light causes wrinkling and leathering of the skin — conditions that we associated with premature aging of the skin and UVB causes sun burns. Both UVA and UVB cause skin cancer. The very change in skin color in response to UV radiation is an indication of skin damage.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. The principle cause of skin cancer is exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These two types are for the most part treatable and curable. However, the third type of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, is much more dangerous.
Approximately 65 to 90 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure to UV light, and this type of cancer can affect people of all ages. Although everyone should take precautions against overexposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays, those with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue or green eyes are at greater risk, because they do not produce as much melanin as those who are darker skinned, with darker hair or darker colored eyes. Melanin does confer a certain amount of protection to the body, but everyone is in danger of sun damage to their body.
A very important safety measure to guard against UV radiation includes wearing sunglasses that have 100 percent UV protection. Even if your contact lenses purport to have UV protection in them you should still wear sunglasses that protect against UVB and UVA rays. Wrap-around sunglasses protect your eyes from the sides as well as from the front.
Sunscreen should be applied at least 20 minutes before going outside. The sunscreen should be broad spectrum, water resistant with at least a SPF (sun protection factor) of 15. Use a mineral based one such as titanium dioxide or zinc so that you don’t contaminate your body with risky chemicals. Put your sunscreen on before you apply make-up, or insect repellent.
Re-apply your sunscreen every two hours even if it is water resistant, because it can rub off and sweating can expose your skin as you wipe it away. The longer you are planning to be outside in the sun, the higher the SPF should be. Try to avoid being outdoors between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. because these are the times when the UV radiation is at its peak.
UV radiation is also more intense at higher altitudes, and is easily reflected of surfaces such as water, snow, sand and cement. In addition to wearing sunscreen, and sunglasses, sun protective clothing and a broad brimmed hat that protects your ears and neck are essential to cover as much of your body as possible to avoid sun damage.
Never look directly at the sun. Looking at the sun can lead to solar retinopathy — literally damage to the retina from gazing directly at the sun. Exposing the eyes to bright sunlight increases to likelihood of developing cataracts, macular degeneration and cancerous growths on the eye.
When it is overcast many people think they can be less concerned about UV radiation but, the truth is that clouds do not filter out UV rays.
Although it is important to get Vitamin D (which we get from the sun) we can always get that from a supplement and not risk skin cancer, premature aging of the skin or eye issues from excessive sun exposure.
By planning excursions later in the day, you reduce the chance of over exposure to harmful UV rays. It is also important to check your skin and have a friend or family member check your back and places you can’t see for changes to the condition of your skin such as sores that won’t heal or noticeable changes in moles or coloration of your skin. It may be nothing to worry about, but it also is important to get such changes checked out by your doctor.
The American Cancer Society has an easy way of remembering important sun safeguards. Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on sunglasses to protect your eyes and the skin around them. They also suggest using the shadow test to see when the sun is at its most intense position.
If your shadow is shorter than you the sun’s rays are at its strongest and it is essential to protect yourself.
We live in a beautiful spot in the world. Let’s all live as long as possible so we can enjoy it, by being smart about our life choices.
Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at email@example.com, 212-8119 cell/text and www.janerileyfitness.com.