A Guide to Sun Protection

4-29-08
Creative Commons License photo credit: sunsets_for_you Sun protection is an extremely important issue that everyone should be concerned with, especially those who want to age gracefully, but it’s even more imperative to anyone who wants to significantly lower their risk of developing some type of skin cancer.

The world is finally starting to understand that while the sun’s energy is indeed a vital source for all living creatures, too much of it can have dire consequences. The sun’s rays are a natural mood enhancer and also give us the light needed to enjoy outdoor adventures, but overexposure, as anyone who has had a sunburn already knows, is something one should always be careful to avoid. Besides the pain and discomfort, excessive exposure to the sun will cause the skin to age faster, increase the amount of lines and wrinkles, and also, increase the likelihood of skin cancer.

When Do We Need the Most Sun Protection?

As any doctor or health care professional will tell you, sun protection should be at the top of your list of health concerns, emphasizing the fact that everyone needs some type of protection any time they’re outdoors. This is even more true if you happen to be outside during the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM, as it is then that the sun’s rays are at their strongest.

What most people, unfortunately, fail to realize is that they are still able to get a sunburn even on overcast or cloudy days, which surprisingly enough, are some of the worst times of all to be outdoors and unprotected from the sun. Also be aware that UV (ultraviolet) rays can easily reflect off of both water and snow, or even surfaces such as sand, concrete and grassy areas.

Understanding the Sun’s UV Rays

UV, or ultraviolet, rays are the sun’s energy in the form of waves of varying lengths, and although overexposure is dangerous, some exposure is necessary to sustain all types of life, including humans, animals and much needed plant life. Over time, people have adapted to a life that’s fueled by the sun’s rays and are able to tolerate most of the UV rays without negative effects. Most of our protection from the sun’s harmful rays is a part of the atmosphere known as the ozone layer, which acts by absorbing most of the damaging rays before they ever have a chance to reach us.

Since these radiation waves from the sun are invisible to the naked eye, most people take them for granted and do little to protect themselves while outdoors. It’s rather important to know that of all types of UV rays, the two that cause skin damage or skin cancer are UVA and UVB, but the sun also produces UVC rays as well, although luckily, these most harmful rays aren’t able to penetrate the ozone layer and have an affect on living things.

UVA rays are the culprits responsible for long-term damage and an increased risk of cancer because they are the rays that are absorbed most deeply into the many layers of skin. These longer and more prevalent rays also remain at their full strength any time during the year, regardless of the season or month. The sun’s UVB rays are much shorter and affect the outermost layer of skin, causing it change color and either tan or burn. Their strength will vary based on factors such as the time of year, the time of day, and of course, the distance from the equator. UVB rays are beneficial to people as the body’s natural ability to create vitamin D is actually enhanced by the sun’s energy and does need some exposure in order to produce this much needed vitamin.

Be sure to also familiarize yourself with the important UV Index, which is a scale from 0 to 11, with 0 being the lowest and 11 being the most extreme, that measures the intensity of the sun’s rays, putting emphasis on the likelihood of the skin becoming burned over a certain period of time with unprotected exposure.

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