As the sun continues to cause sunburns across the country, it’s important to know how best to enjoy the summer while staying safe from UV radiation. July is known as UV Safety Awareness Month, but what is UV really? Ultraviolet (UV) rays are an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps and can penetrate and change skin cells.
There are three types of UV light:
- Ultraviolet A (UVA)
- Ultraviolet B (UVB)
- Ultraviolet C (UVC)
UV light is classified according to wavelength, or the distance between peaks in a series of waves. UVA has the longest wavelength, and it can penetrate your skin’s middle layer. UVB has the next longest wavelength and can penetrate your outer layer of skin. UVC has the shortest wavelength, and all of the UVC rays emitted by the sun are absorbed by the ozone layer. The only way that you might be exposed to UVC radiation is from a tanning bed or sunlamp.
Wearing sunscreen and sunglasses that block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB light will help protect you from the harmful effects of the sun. It’s especially important during the period between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the UV rays are their strongest. You might think that UV exposure is only dangerous during the summer months. Your risk might be greater if you spend more time outdoors during the summer, but UV rays can reach you on cloudy days, during cool weather, and during any season of the year.
The Risks of UV Radiation
There are several risks associated with exposure to UV radiation, two common ones being skin injuries — sunburns after short-term exposure and skin cancer after long-term exposure — and eye injuries. It’s also important to speak to your doctor about UV exposure to check if you’re on any medication that could cause your eyes or skin to be more sensitive to UV rays.
There are several factors to consider that affect the amount of UV radiation you are exposed to. This include:
- Geography: UV rays are strongest closer to the equator.
- Altitude: You are more exposed to UV radiation at higher altitudes, so keep this in mind when hiking or traveling to new places.
- Time of year: During the summer months, the angle of the sun is more direct. This can cause you to obtain increased amounts of UV exposure.
- Time of day: UV rays are strongest during the hours around noon. This is when the sun is at its peak. UV rays are also stronger during the spring and summer and decrease during the fall and winter. It is best to stay out of the sun from the hours of 10 am to 4 pm.
- Weather conditions: Don’t be deceived by a cloudy day as UV rays can still penetrate through clouds and reach Earth. Even on cloudy days, you can still sustain damage to your skin and eyes. Remember to protect yourself with sunscreen and eye protection at all times when outdoors.
- Reflection: Exposure to UV radiation is increased when in contact with reflective surfaces such as pavement, snow, water, and sand. Wearing good sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen can help protect you from any unwanted UV exposure.
Protecting Your Skin From Sunburn
Symptoms of sunburn usually start about four hours after sun exposure, worsen over 24–36 hours, and resolve in three to five days. These symptoms include red, tender, and swollen skin, blistering, headache, fever, nausea, and fatigue. In addition to the skin, the eyes can become sunburned. Sunburned eyes become red, dry, and painful. Chronic eye exposure can even cause permanent damage, including blindness.
There are many recommended ways to avoid sunburns altogether, including:
- Avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun
- Wearing sunscreen with a minimum rating of SPF-15
- Looking for sunscreen products containing Mexoryl, Parsol 1789, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone
- Applying sunscreen correctly and reapplying it often
- Throwing away sunscreen after 1–2 years (it loses potency)
- Wearing clothing with a tight weave or high-SPF clothing
- Wearing wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses with UV protection and side panels
- Taking breaks in shaded areas and drinking plenty of water
Protecting Your Eyes From Sunburn
Protecting skin from UV rays is much emphasized during the summer, but eyes are at risk from UV rays year-round. It’s important to protect the eyes from UV rays in all situations by wearing proper eye protection — either UV-blocking sunglasses or appropriate tanning goggles.
Here are some tips for keeping your eyes safe from UV radiation:
- Select sunglasses that block UV rays, preferably ones marked as 100% UV-blocking.
- Choose your sunglasses wisely. It is best to wear sunglasses that wrap- around the contours of your face, so the sun’s rays can’t creep around the edges of your eyes.
- Encourage even young children to practice eye protection, such as wearing a hat in addition to sunglasses.
- For contact lens wearers, don’t rely on your contact lenses even if your contact lenses have UV protection. In addition, remember to wear your sunglasses.
- Don’t let a cloudy day fool you: The sun’s UV rays can penetrate through clouds, no matter the time of year.
- Eye protection is especially important during peak sun times: While it is best to avoid the sun during the peak hours or 10 am to 4 pm when UV rays are more intense, remember to wear your sunglasses anytime you are outside.
- Finally, avoid looking directly at the sun at any time. This can lead to ‘sunburn of the eye’ and cause damage to the retina of your eyes.
It’s still possible to have fun in the sun and be outdoors. Just be sure to practice appropriate sun protection for your skin and eyes — not just during UV Safety Awareness Month but all year long.
We are here for you
If you have concerns about skin cancer, please talk to your Primary Care Provider or call our oncology department. You can call our oncology department directly at (561) 721-6891 and make a consultation with Dr. Michael Hall, Radiation Oncologist at The Medical Group of South Florida. Dr. Hall can help walk you through the various treatment options available to your unique situation.
Book a consultation with Dr. Hall and start beating cancer today.