From vacations to yardwork, our summer activities have us outdoors enjoying all the benefits of warm weather and long days more than any other time of the year. It’s a great time to get some exercise outside or simply relax in all that nature has to offer, but summer is also a time when people expose themselves to dangerous ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Read on to learn more about what UV rays are, how they can affect your body, and what you can do to protect yourself — a great way to participate in UV Safety Awareness Month this July.
What Is UV Radiation?
UV rays are a form of radiation that primarily comes from the sun but are also generated by things like tanning beds. These rays can damage a person’s skin by changing the way the DNA of skin cells operates.
These are the two most common types of UV rays:
UVA – These rays can damage skin cell DNA and lead to long-term skin damage.
UVB – These rays have more energy than UVA rays, which means they cause sunburns and damage skin cell DNA directly.
How UV Exposure Can Affect Your Body
It’s no secret that prolonged, unprotected exposure to UV rays can ultimately lead to skin cancer — it is, after all, the most common form of cancer in the United States. But what you might not know is that all that time in the sun can affect you in other ways if you don’t take the necessary steps to protect yourself.
Here are just a few other ways UV rays can affect your body if you’re not protected:
Overexposure to UV rays has also been linked to a weakened immune system, which makes it harder for your body to fight off illnesses or receive the full benefits of immunizations.
What About Vitamin D?
One of the most commonly referenced arguments against the frequent application of sunscreen or wearing shade-protective clothing such as hats or long-sleeved shirts is that exposure to the sun provides necessary vitamin D. While this is an essential nutrient for our bodies, its connection with sun rays is often misunderstood.
Vitamin D is important for a person’s bone health and has many other health benefits, but doctors are still learning about just how much a person needs in a day. And although your body does produce vitamin D when it’s exposed to UV rays, the potential danger of overexposure vastly outweigh the benefits in this case.
Here’s what the American Cancer Society says about UV rays and vitamin D:
“Whenever possible, it’s better to get vitamin D from your diet or vitamin supplements rather than from exposure to UV rays because dietary sources and vitamin supplements do not increase skin cancer risk and are typically more reliable ways to get the amount you need.”
How to Protect Yourself
Fortunately, protecting yourself from UV rays is easy and inexpensive. Here’s how you can keep yourself and your family safe this summer:
Seek the Shade and Stay Covered
The hours between 10am and 4pm are typically the most dangerous in regard to UV exposure. With this in mind, ensuring that you have a place to get some shade is absolutely essential. This is especially important if you’re spending your day on the beach or anywhere else where the reflection of the sun can increase UV exposure, such as in the snow or sand.
Wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, long skirts, and hats may not always feel like the most appealing option in the hot summer months, but these protective clothing items can keep you safe. Just remember, dark clothing is usually more protective than light clothing.
Apply (and Reapply Sunscreen) Every Two Hours
Picking the right kind of sunscreen — and then applying it properly — is an important step in protecting yourself. A sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 is necessary to block UVA and UVB rays, but a higher SPF is recommended. As the American Cancer Society highlights, however, no sunscreen can protect you completely, so it should be treated as a supplement to your protection.
Choose the Right Sunglasses
Beyond their look and style, sunglasses are a summer essential for a reason. In terms of protecting your eyes from UVA and UVB exposure, there’s nothing better — as long as you pick the right ones.
When picking out a new set of shades, always look for UVA and UVB protection ratings. Any worthwhile pair will tell you how protective it is against these types of radiation, and you shouldn’t accept anything less than 100%.
Want to learn more about skin cancer and how to protect yourself from harmful UV rays? Visit Cancer.org for more articles and tips from the American Cancer Society.