How many times have you been casually driving about on a summer's day and spied a billboard depicting a smiling sun and thought, "That there sun is up to no good." If your answer is, "Always, James!", then your head is in the right place! Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the sun isn't smiling at you. It is! I'm just saying that its pearly whites and big happy eyes are emitting unseen dangers upon your helpless human surfacing! What unseen emissions am I speaking of? UV rays!! Eek!
UV, or ultraviolet, rays are a form of radiation that comes from sunlight (American Cancer Society [ACS], 2015a). There are three different types of UV rays. They're all conveniently named which can help us more easily remember them. UVA, UVB and UVC are the three types and of the three there are only two that we need worry about. UVC, as it turns out, doesn’t make its way through our atmosphere (a literal UVC force field) and therefore does not act as a potential danger to our moisturized hides. UVA and UVB, though, do make their way through our atmosphere and are causes of concern when it comes to exposing ourselves to them (ACS, 2015a)!
UVA rays are known to advance the aging process of skin cells and can damage the DNA within. Long-term effects of excessive UVA ray exposure typically present as wrinkles to the skin but it's important to note that damaged DNA can increase the risk of developing cancer (ACS, 2015b). Beware! That tanning bed you visit is actually making a UVA ray sponge out of you! Unfortunately that analogy is somewhat misleading as you cannot simply squeeze those rays away and down some magical UVA ray drain.
UVB rays directly damage the DNA of skin cells. So while you're spared those dreadful wrinkles from the likes of UVA, you're not spared sunburns or the increased risk of skin cancer (ACS, 2015b). That's right, friend, UVB rays are the prime culprit and usual suspect when it comes to sunburns. So next time you snag a gnarly sunburn make sure that you correctly attribute blame in your daily diary entry.
Now that you know a lot more than your friends about UV rays, it's time that you learned even more about what you can do to protect yourself from too much exposure. Knowledge, as they say, is power! First, let's consider the more salient point. UV ray strength is dependent upon a lot of factors and being aware of those factors can help you appropriately gauge your approach to not soaking them all up (ACS, 2015a):
- The time of the day - In between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. is when UV rays are the strongest. Midnight beach sessions, anyone?
- Season - spring and summer bring us stronger UV rays. This, of course, is because we expect more sunlight during those seasons.
- Altitude - This one is almost obvious. The closer you are to the sun the closer you are to the sun's rays. This is like standing next to a fire. The closer you are the hotter you become. See?
- Cloud cover - While it's not wise to assume that you're safe from UV because you cannot see the sun, it is enough of a point to make that cloud cover can lower exposure to UV rays. Truly, UV rays still get through. It's just a diminished amount.
Finally, and best of all, eat more dark chocolate! A recent-ish study found that eating chocolate with high flavanol components can offer greater photoprotection to your skin (Williams, Tamburic & Lally, 2009). A sweet point to end on indeed!
In conclusion, I want you to know that you don't truly have to be fearful of the sun. There are things that are terribly far more frightening (e.g. Venus fly-traps). You just have to be aware of the ways that too much sunlight can damage your skin and be mindful of what you can do to combat those sunlight slights. And now you're cognizant of both. Be safe, friends!
American Cancer Society. (2015a). What is ultraviolet (UV) radiation?. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/sunanduvexposure/skincancerpreventionandearlydetection/skin-cancer-prevention-and-early-detection-what-is-u-v-radiation
American Cancer Society. (2015b). What Is Cancer? Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/what-is-cancer
Wang, S. Q. (n.d.). ASK THE EXPERT: Does a higher-SPF (sun protection factor) sunscreen always protect your skin better? Retrieved from http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/ask-the-experts/does-a-higher-spf-sunscreen-always-protect-your-skin-better
Williams, S., Tamburic, S., & Lally, C. (2009). Eating chocolate can significantly protect the skin from UV light. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 8(3), 169-173. doi:10.1111/j.1473-2165.2009.00448.x
By: James Banks.
James Banks is a graduate student at Texas Woman's University. He enjoys his job as a servant of the public for the State of Texas. When James isn't working or studying he enjoys family time, exercising and journaling.
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