Most of us love to spend as much time out in the sun as possible during the summer months, yet the phrase “catching some rays” can have a more sinister meaning. The UV rays from the sun are the main cause of skin cancer. It is important to understand what UV rays are, and how you can protect yourself and your family from their potentially lethal effects.
What is UV radiation?
UV radiation is a natural part of the electromagnetic spectrum that comes to the earth from the sun. It is essentially the same type of radiation as light, only it has a shorter wavelength, meaning that it is not visible to the naked eye. The wavelengths of UV radiation are classified as UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA is the longest of the three with a wavelength of 320-400 nanometers. UVB is between 290 to 320 nanometers. The shortest wavelength belongs to UVC, but most of this type of radiation is absorbed by the earth’s ozone layer and does not make it to the surface of the earth.
UVA and UVB, on the other hand, penetrate the atmosphere and can cause conditions such as skin cancer, eye damage, and premature aging. They can also harm the immune system, meaning that your ability to combat other illnesses becomes compromised.
What to do
It is important to remember that UV radiation is perfectly natural and is unlikely to cause any problems in small doses. However, for those of us who spend lots of time out in the sun, it is important to take precautions. This is especially important if you typically spend most of your time indoors and suddenly expose yourself to unusual levels of UV; for example, if you have an office job and then decide to take a two-week vacation in the sun. Here are some tips for staying safe:
- Wear the right clothes:
Sure, you want to get a tan, but the key is moderation. If you spend hours under a burning sun wearing next to nothing, you are asking for trouble. Limit your exposure and give your skin a break by covering up from time to time.
Woven fabrics are the order of the day, as they are better at keeping out the harmful UV rays. Tightly fitting compression clothing is ideal, and the latest copper fit technology is specifically designed with UV protection in mind for those leading an active, outdoor life.
- Use a good sunscreen
This tip is particularly important where children are involved, as their skin will burn far more quickly. Choose your sunscreen carefully, ensuring that it is a type that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. You can also get products that will remain effective even after exposure to water – particularly important if you are going for the traditional mixture of sun and sea! The American Cancer Society offers some useful advice on choosing the most appropriate sunscreen.
- You can leave your hat on
Now that you have Tom Jones’s raunchy number stuck in your brain, you will probably remember the importance of keeping that sunhat on your head! Choose something with a wide brim to protect the face, nose, ears, and neck as well as the head. Particularly important, again, for the youngsters and for gentlemen who might be going a little bit Bruce Willis on top!
- The future’s so bright
Speaking of memorable songs, anyone who grew up in the 80s will remember Timbuk3’s classic about wearing shades. This forms another useful piece of advice, but again, make sure that you have the right sort. Choose sunglasses that filter both types of UV to give your eyes the best possible protection.
- Limit your exposure
Even with all the above precautions, you could still end up with problems if you are in the sun for hours on end, so give yourself and the family some time out, particularly when the sun is at its strongest. If in doubt, do a shadow test – if your shadow is shorter than you, the sun is at its most powerful, and it is probably a wise move to get into the shade for a little while.
Enjoy the sun
Our closest star sometimes gets a bad rap, but none of us would be here without it. Enjoy its life-giving and life-affirming qualities, and make the most of the summer – the above tips will help you to do just that, without any unpleasant or harmful consequences.