It’s only fitting that July is UV Awareness Month. During the dog days of summer, July days are some of the hottest of the year. People are hitting the beach, spending time outdoors playing sports or attending professional games or relaxing at the pool during family barbecues. It’s a fun time for all – no school, no snow, and no worries, right? While July is the perfect month for relaxation, it’s also the time when the sun is at it’s fiercest and those UV rays couples with intense heat can lead to severe skin damage. It’s important to know the facts, especially during UV Awareness Month.
What is UV Radiation?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is part of the sun’s light spectrum that can reach the earth. Depending on the intensity and wavelength, the potential for damage increases or decreases as these rays can penetrate and change skin cells. Tanning beds, sunlamps, and the sun can emit these harmful rays that can cause a change in skin texture, premature aging, and even skin cancer. There are three different types of UV rays: ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC).
Long-wavelength UVA rays are the most common. They reach beyond the top layer of a person’s skin and damage connective tissues, thus increasing one’s risk of cancer. UVA makes up for about 95% of the UV radiation at the Earth’s surface and passes easily through the ozone layer. These rays cause you to tan, which is a result of injury to the skin’s DNA and often is the culprit for deep wrinkling and leathering. UVA also penetrates clouds and glass windows.
Less common at the earth’s surface, medium-length UVB rays don’t reach as far into the skin, but are still damaging. UVB rays pass through the ozone and cause sunburns by damaging the superficial layers of your skin in as little as 15 minutes if left unprotected. UVB is particularly damaging at high altitudes and on reflective surfaces like snow or ice, so it’s important to protect yourself from this type of radiation year-round. Between 10 am and 4 pm, from April to October, UVB is at it’s most significant in the US.
Finally, the last type of UV radiation is the short-wavelength UVC, which has more energy than UVA and UVB. UVC is absorbed by the ozone layer, so it does not reach the earth’s surface. It is because of this that it is not typically considered a factor in skin cancer. That said UVC is commonly found in man-made sources of UV like Mercury lamps, welding torches, and UV sanitizing bulbs. In the past, UVC was used in tanning beds.
How Can UV Radiation Cause Skin Cancer?
Skin cancers are usually a direct result of exposure to UV rays in sunlight. Studies show that typically, basal and squamous cell skin cancers and melanoma are all linked to behaviors directly to do with sun exposure, but it’s important to note that people who use tanning beds have a high risk of skin cancer as well. Because sun damage is cumulative (meaning it builds up over time), damaging your skin now can lead to skin cancer in the future. It’s important to take all of the steps necessary each and every year to reduce your risk.
Aside from skin cancer, there are also greater risks of UV exposure. UV rays can cause eye problems like cataracts and pterygium (both of which can impair vision) and weaken the immune system, making it harder for your body to fend off infections.
How to Protect Your Skin Radiation during UV Radiation Month
Lather on the Sunscreen
“According to the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, most people only apply 20 – 25 of the recommended amount of sunscreen.” Apply one ounce (or a golf ball-sized amount) of sunscreen to your body about 30 minutes before going outside.
Don’t forget your ears, hands, feet, neck, and lips (which have less melanin than the rest of your skin), because those can get burned too. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or profuse sweating. And don’t forget that the sun doesn’t take a vacation — sunscreen should be used regardless of weather conditions or time fo the year. Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher is the way to go for daily wear, though if you plan to be outside for an extended period, use SPF 30. And don’t forget to check your sunscreen’s expiration date!
Find a shady space to hide out in, especially when the sun as at it’s most intense midday (between the hours of 10 and 4.) You can greatly reduce your risk of skin cancer by limiting your amount of sun exposure by means of shade from a tree, an umbrella, or other forms of shelter. In the same vein, staying covered means wearing closed and accessories to protect yourself from UV radiation.
A wide-brimmed hat or visor is sure to do the trick when you’re in a place with very little opportunity for shade. Additionally, wearing sunglasses that protect against UV can protect your eyes from those harmful rays, so invest in a good pair of shades (or goggles in the winter when UV rays can bounce right off of the snow.) Make sure that your protective eyewear blocks as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible!
Stay Away from Artificial UV
Remember that there is no such thing as a ‘safe tan.’ Indoor tanning increases one’s risk of developing melanoma as well as basal and squamous cell cancers. Tanning is particularly dangerous to young people. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people who tan during adolescence have a higher risk of the deadliest type of skin cancer. Both sunlamps and tanning beds can cause serious long-term damage to your skin, so it’s important to avoid these artificial UV methods when possible.
Get Vitamin D From Natural Sources
“But what about vitamin D?” Yes, it’s true that your skin creates this crucial mineral when it’s exposed to UV rays, and it’s correct that vitamin D is crucial to consume as it promotes bone growth and helps your body absorb calcium…. But it’s best to get vitamin D from your diet when you can. Whether you take supplements or eat foods like mushrooms, eggs, yogurt, or salmon, your skin will thank you. Dietary sources of vitamin D are reliable and don’t increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
Schedule Skin Cancer Screenings
Annual skin cancer screenings will ensure that no moles, marks, or discolored patch of skin goes unnoticed, so it’s important to schedule appointments with your physician. Additionally, make sure that you are performing self-exams from head-to-toe every single month. Keep track of changes in shape, size, and color of moles so that you can detect potentially damaged areas before its too late! Need a way to get to your appointment? Contact ABBA Medical Transportation!