Protect yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays | Iredell Health System

Soaking up some sunlight each day can increase your body’s supply of vitamin D and even improve your emotional state. But before long, the sun’s rays do more harm than good.

Spending too much time outdoors can expose you to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation rays—the main cause of skin cancer. Fortunately, by understanding UV rays and their harmful effects, you can protect your skin from damage.

Understanding UV radiation
Ultraviolet radiation is emitted naturally from the sun and artificially from sources such as tanning beds. There are three different types of UV radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC. These types are classified based on their wavelength – the shorter the wavelength, the more damage it causes.

UVA has the longest wavelength and is associated with skin aging and wrinkling, while UVB has a shorter wavelength and causes redness, burning and skin cancer. UVC has the shortest wavelength and is therefore the most dangerous. But luckily for us, UVC is almost completely absorbed by the earth’s ozone layer and does not naturally reach our skin.

Dangers of UV radiation
Although humans cannot physically see the sun’s ultraviolet rays, they can cause serious damage.

“Too much exposure to UV radiation can lead to sunburns, eye damage and cataracts, premature aging, wrinkles and age spots,” said Kalea Hendren, family nurse practitioner at Family Care Center in Mocksville.

Everyone’s skin ages over time, but did you know that UV rays accelerate this process? Exposure to UV radiation damages collagen and elastin fibers, causing your skin to develop premature wrinkles and loose folds. In addition, frequent sunburns or long hours spent tanning can lead to permanent darkening of your skin and the formation of a leathery texture.

“However, the worst consequence of prolonged exposure to the sun is the development of skin cancer. Because skin damage from the sun develops over the years, the older you are, the greater your risk of developing skin cancer,” she added.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70. Even more surprising, more than two people die from skin cancer in the US every hour.

UV rays actually damage the DNA in your skin cells, which can cause cells to grow out of control and form tumors that may be cancerous. Exposure to UV rays can also weaken your immune system, making it less able to defend your body against aggressive skin cancer cells.

“While anyone’s skin and eyes can be affected by the sun, fair-skinned people are much more likely to damage their skin from UV rays and develop skin cancer. People with a family history of skin cancer are also at higher risk,” Hendren said.

If you have freckles, blue or green eyes, blonde or red hair, or burn easily, you should pay special attention to sun protection, as people with these characteristics are at greater risk of developing skin cancer.

Protect your skin
Despite the dangers of UV rays, you can and should still enjoy summer outdoors.

Wear sunscreen
Putting on sunscreen should be one of the first things you do every day. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher every day, even if you’re not outdoors.

“Choosing the right sunscreen for you is very important! For outdoor activities, use broad-spectrum protection that is waterproof and has SPF 30 or higher. You should apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going out in the sun so that your skin can absorb it. Make sure you apply sunscreen to bare skin, without other lotions. And remember to reapply every two hours while you’re in the sun,” Hendren said.

You must follow these rules even on cloudy days. UV rays can still harm you even if there are clouds in the sky.

Don’t forget the sunglasses
When you’re out in the sun, don’t forget to wear sunglasses. You should wear sunglasses outdoors all year round, not just in the summer.

“Choose sunglasses that block 99-100% of UV rays. Make sure to be extra careful around water, snow or sand. Much of the sun’s rays reflect off these surfaces and amplify the sun’s harmful rays,” Hendren said.

Wear protective clothing
Wide-brimmed hats and clothing with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) can offer you protection from the sun. Fabric that says “UPF 50” allows only 1/50th of solar ultraviolet radiation to pass through. This means that the clothing will block 98% of the sun’s rays.

Look for shade
When you are outside, do not stay in direct sunlight for too long. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10:00 and 16:00. If you can, try to seek as much shade as you can during these peak hours.

Protect your little ones
If you have a baby under the age of six months, you should keep it out of direct sunlight.

“Babies have very sensitive skin and cannot fully absorb the ingredients of sunscreen. So, keeping them in shady areas is better and can reduce the risk of developing skin cancer later in life,” Hendren said.

For babies and children over six months, apply sunscreen when they spend time outdoors.

By implementing these sun safety tips, you can protect yourself from the harmful effects of UV radiation.

Find out more
Hendren practices at Family Care Center of Mocksville, located at 101 Wilkesboro Street, and is accepting new patients. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Kaleah Hendren, please call 336-753-0800.

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