The Harmful Effects of UV Rays, and What You Can do About it

Nearly 90% of skin melanomas are caused by excess UV exposure.

Whether you spend your summer months working outdoors, grilling in the backyard, attending your children’s sporting events, or enjoying a beach vacation with drinks by the pool, you may be at risk of overexposure. UV Safety Awareness Month was created to shed light on the importance of protecting your skin and eyes from UV radiation.

What is UV Radiation?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the emission of energy that is produced by the sun, tanning beds, and other artificial sources. There are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

  • Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays can deeply penetrate the skin and play a critical role in early signs of aging and wrinkle formation.
  • Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays cause sunburn and are responsible for causing skin cancers.
  • Ultraviolet C (UVC) is the strongest out of the three types of UV rays but is thankfully blocked by the Earth’s ozone layer. UVC rays are only found artificially through specific lamps and lasers.

Although there are many benefits to being outdoors and taking in the sunshine, there are also many harmful effects if you are exposed for too long or do not take the necessary safety precautions.

Harmful Effects of UV Rays

Exposure to UV radiation is a potential risk to both your eyes and skin:

  • According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, without proper eye protection, people increase their chance of developing cataracts, eye cancers, growths, or snow blindness. This is caused by UV rays damaging the surface, tissue, cornea, and lens of the eyes over time.
  • Too much UV exposure to the skin causes sunburn. A sunburn occurs as UV rays reach the inner layers of skin and begin to damage or kill the skin cells. A statement from the CDC explains that UV overexposure to the skin can increase risk of melanoma, basal cell cancer, and squamous cell cancer.

Are some people more likely to be affected than others?

Everyone can be affected by sun exposure; however, it is true that some are more likely to have their skin and eyes damaged by UV rays than others.

The color of the skin is caused by the activity and number of melanocytes (the cells that create a darker pigment in the skin called melanin). Melanin helps block harmful UV rays, which is why those with lighter skin are at a higher risk.

In addition to those who sunburn easily, you should take extra precaution when exposed to UV rays if:

  • You have previously had skin cancer.
  • Your family has a history of skin cancer.
  • You spend a lot of time in direct sunlight.
  • You are over the age of 50.

How long is too long?

The World Health Organization recommends between 5 and 15 minutes of direct sun exposure about 2 to 3 times a week in the summer months. Depending on how close you live to the equator, shorter periods of exposure might be advised. Those few minutes are all it takes to keep your vitamin D levels high!

So, if you plan to be out in the sun longer than 15 minutes, it is likely you will need to take preventative measures.

How to minimize risk

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to protect yourself from the harmful effects of UV radiation. The CDC recommends:

  • Keep to the shade during the intense midday hours of sunlight.
  • Use sunscreen of at least SPF 15 (even when it is cloudy or overcast).
  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection.
  • Wear a wide brim hat.
  • Avoid tanning beds.

In stating all of this, do not forget being outside still has many positive effects. Your sleep cycle, mental health, energy levels, and stress levels can all improve with natural light. So, don’t skip out on the outdoor activities—just remember to wear your SPF!

How Healthcare Highways Can Help

If you feel like you may be at risk or want to learn more about protecting yourself from harmful UV rays, reach out to your primary care provider for more information. If you would like assistance finding a provider or have questions, please call your Customer Experience Advocates team or your Care Coordination team members and they will help you through the process!