July is National UV Safety Awareness Month and we've had a nice stretch of bright and sunny days (and super intense heat). SO, we wanted to give everyone some tools and tips to keep themselves safe from those intense ultraviolet (UV) rays.
The goal of this month is to spread the word about safe sun practices and the real effect of UV rays on health. We'd love for you to help us with that goal by sharing this blog far and wide!
What are ultraviolet (UV) rays?
UV rays are an invisible product of UV radiation that are part of the energy that comes from the sun. Too much exposure to UV rays can cause a wealth of long-term damaging effects to the skin from sunburns to skin cancer.
There are three different types of UV rays: UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C.
UV-A light (320-400nm) is UV light with the longest wavelength, and the least harmful. It is more commonly known as "black light", and many use its ability to cause objects to emit fluorescence (a colored glowing effect) in artistic and celebratory designs. Many insects and birds can perceive this type of UV radiation visually, along with some humans in rare cases such as Aphakia (missing optic lens).
UV-B light (290-320nm) causes sunburns with prolonged exposure along with increasing the risk of skin cancer and other cellular damage. About 95% of all UV-B light is absorbed by the ozone in Earth's atmosphere.
UV-C light (100-290nm) is extremely harmful and is almost completely absorbed by Earth's atmosphere. It is commonly used as a disinfectant in food, air, and water to kill microorganisms by destroying their cells' nucleic acids.
Who is more at risk for UV-related skin damage?
There are several risk factors, but below are the top three:
Up to a point, melanin helps block out UV rays, so those with naturally lighter skin color are in a higher risk category for outcomes such as melanoma. Those who burn easily or have a history of severe sunburns are also in a higher risk category. Those with many and/or atypical moles could also be in a higher risk category for melanoma.
A family history of skin cancers can increase one's risk for developing one themselves. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about one in every 10 patients diagnosed with melanoma has a family member with a history of the disease. If one or more close biological relatives – parents, brothers, sisters or children – had melanoma, you are at increased risk. Compared to people with no family history of melanoma, each person with a first-degree relative diagnosed with melanoma has a greater chance of developing the disease. That’s why, when a melanoma is diagnosed, doctors often recommend that close relatives be examined for melanoma.
3. Previous History
A previous diagnosis of a skin cancer increases the likelihood of recurrence. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that if you’ve had melanoma already, you run a risk for recurrence. You also run a risk for developing new melanomas. If you’ve had squamous cell carcinoma or basal cell carcinoma, you are also more likely to develop melanoma at some point in your life.
If you have any questions or concerns about your potential risk for developing a skin cancer, please reach out to your physician.
How can I protect myself?
The CDC lists several steps that you can take to prevent yourself and your loved ones:
Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours.
Wear clothes that cover your arms and legs.
Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, ears, and neck.
Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays.
Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection. Associated Physicians also recommends using a reef-safe sunscreen for environmental friendliness.
Avoid indoor tanning. Indoor tanning is particularly dangerous for younger users; people who begin indoor tanning during adolescence or early adulthood have a higher risk of developing melanoma.