Now that we are getting past the summer months, we don’t have to worry as much about sunburns. Well, that may be the case for most of the U.S., but it is not the case for Florida!
The good things we get from the sun are light, warmth, photosynthesis in plants and vitamin D.
It does all these things by sending down radiation through the atmosphere that includes visible light, infrared and ultraviolet or UV rays. We see the visible light, we feel the infrared, but we do not see or feel the UV. Only some ultraviolet rays are filtered out through the atmosphere before reaching us.
Too much sun is not good, mainly because of ultraviolet radiation. That radiation contains UVA rays and UVB rays.
Too much UV radiation damages our skin. There is no such thing as a healthy tan. Any color change from our natural skin color is the skin’s injury-response to excessive UV radiation.
A sunburn means that the sun’s radiation (mainly UVB rays) has killed most of the cells in your upper skin layer, or damaged the DNA in those cells. Too much sun over years can cause our skin to age too soon. The sun’s UVA rays break down collagen, causing wrinkles and loose skin to develop early and makes some people look older than they are.
Sunburns can lead to cancer, usually a long time afterward. Suffering even one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing potentially deadly melanoma cancer later in life.
Non-melanoma skin cancers are also more likely after being sunburned. All of these cancers take many years to develop, after skin cells’ DNA is permanently changed from a sunburn.
One in five North Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime.
The bright sun can damage our eyes too. When we get sunburned, our eyes can be hurt at the same time, and we may not know it. Too much sun can cause inflammation of the eyes. If we don’t wear sunglasses in the bright sun, over time, our eyes can develop cataracts.
We don’t need to be afraid of being in the sun, but we all can be safer about it. The goal is to reduce the amount of UV radiation that reaches our bodies.
First, we need to be knowledgeable about it. Clouds can block some of the UV rays, but do not block all. That’s why we can get sunburned on a cloudy day.
The air temperature does not impact the level of UV radiation. The strength is the same on a cool day as a warm day. But these factors will affect the level:
Time of day – the higher the sun in the sky, the higher the UV radiation level. 60% of UV is received between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.
Time of year – UV radiation levels are highest during the summer months.
Geographic location – the sun’s rays are strongest at the equator, where the sun is most directly overhead. The closer the equator, the higher the UV radiation levels. With Florida’s low latitude, we get more UV radiation than the rest of the U.S.
- UV rays are reflected off surfaces such as snow, water, sand, and concrete. This indirect UV radiation can significantly add to a person’s overall exposure.
What can we do with this knowledge? First, find shade. This is one of the best ways to protect our eyes and skin. Remember that even on cloudy days, a lot of the sun’s radiation comes through.
Shade is especially important in the middle of the day, when the sun’s UV or ultraviolet light is the strongest. If you use an umbrella at the beach, remember that sand reflects up to 25% of the UV radiation. So you are still getting UV rays bouncing off the sand.
Another good way to stay safer is having more clothing. Hats protect the head, face and neck. Shirts protect our upper bodies. But remember you can still get a lot of sun even though a shirt.
Tightly woven fabrics work better. Check if you can see through the shirt when you hold it up to light. Loose-fitting clothing is more beneficial too.
When the material is stretched, UV rays can get through more easily. An even better choice would be clothing and hats with UV protection in the material.
So, sunscreen is another way to protect the skin. Use one that is called “broad-spectrum”, with an SPF of at least 30. Keep reapplying, because it can wear off. And of course, wear sunglasses as much as possible.
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