More and more people are venturing out of the house, especially this summer season after being inside for the last 18 or so months. It is more important than ever to make sure you are staying safe from harmful UV rays while in the sun.
While sunlight can help your body produce vitamin D, an important vitamin needed to produce strong bones, you’ll still want to make sure you aren’t putting yourself at risk for something worse. Sunburns and some skin cancers are caused by overexposure to UV rays from the sun and man-made sun substitutes like sunlamps and tanning beds.
Since July is UV Safety Month, we’re going to talk about sun safety and UV rays with some help from the American Cancer Society.
What are UV rays?
UV rays are ultraviolet sun rays and prolonged exposure to them (either from the sun itself or from an artificial source like a tanning bed or sun lamp) can cause skin cancer. The more exposure to UV rays and the stronger those rays are, the greater the risk of developing skin cancer.
What types of UV rays are there?
The three most common types of UV rays are UVA, UVB, and UVC. These are all produced by sunlight. UVB rays tend to have more energy and therefore are more likely to be a main cause of skin cancers. But all types of UV rays can damage skin (like a wicked sunburn!) and cause skin cancer. No UV ray is safe.
Can UV rays vary in strength?
Yes, there are a few factors that affect the strength of an ultraviolet ray. Things like time of day and season can play off each other. For example, UV rays are stronger at 2 PM during the Summer and Spring months than they are at 2 PM during the Fall and Winter months.
Distance from the equator also factors into this as UV potency and exposure lowers the further away from the equator one lives. There’s less UV exposure here in Pennsylvania than there is in Key West. Altitude also impacts UV strength because more UV rays reach the ground at higher elevations. Southwestern PA, where the Allegheny and Appalachian Mountains are, has more UV exposure than here in southeastern PA.
We can’t forget about the reflection of sunlight off surfaces like water, snow, sand, or pavement. This can double the amount of exposure you get by reflecting those same rays back at you from below you. Even cloud cover can have an effect on how much UV exposure you get. Remember, UV rays can still reach the ground on a cloudy day.
How can I tell how strong UV rays are?
The US National Weather Service and Environmental Protection Agency developed the UV Index to give people an idea of just how strong the rays will be that day. The UV Index uses a scale of 1 to 11+, with 1 being the lowest possible risk and 11+ being the highest possible risk. A higher number on the scale means there’s more of a chance of sunburn and skin damage that could lead to skin cancer.
How can I protect myself from UV exposure?
Staying out of the sun is still the best way to avoid exposure, but if your heart is set on being outside follow the American Cancer Society’s “Slip! Slop! Slap! and Wrap” formula. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, and wrap on sunglasses to best protect yourself from harmful UV rays.