While everybody needs some sun exposure to help produce vitamin D (which helps in the absorption of calcium for stronger and healthier bones), unprotected exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause damage to the skin, eyes, and immune system. It can also cause cancer. Although there are other contributing factors, including heredity and environment, sunburn and excessive UV light exposure does damage the skin, and this damage can lead to skin cancer.
Tanning is the skin's response to UV light. When UV rays reach the skin, the skin makes more melanin. Melanin is the pigment that causes tanning, Tanning does not prevent skin cancer.
Energy from the sun reaches the earth as visible, infrared, and ultraviolet (UV) rays.
- Ultraviolet A (UVA) is made up of wavelengths 320 to 400 nm (nanometers) in length.
- Ultraviolet B (UVB) wavelengths are 290 to 320 nm.
- Ultraviolet C (UVC) wavelengths are 200 to 290 nm.
Only UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays reach the earth's surface. The earth's atmosphere absorbs UVC wavelengths.
- UVB rays cause a much greater risk of skin cancer than UVA.
- However, UVA rays cause aging, wrinkling, and loss of elasticity.
- UVA also increases the damaging effects of UVB, including skin cancer and cataracts.
In most cases, ultraviolet rays react with melanin. This is the first defense against the sun, as it is the melanin that absorbs the dangerous UV rays that can do serious skin damage. Sunburn develops when the amount of UV damage exceeds the protection that the skin's melanin can provide. While a small amount of exposure to sunlight is healthy and pleasurable, too much can be dangerous. Measures should be taken to prevent overexposure to sunlight in order to reduce the risks of cancers, premature aging of the skin, the development of cataracts, and other harmful effects.
The best means of protecting yourself against the damaging effects of the sun is by limiting exposure and protecting the skin.
The best way to prevent sunburn in children over 6 months of age is to follow the "Be Sun Smartsm" tips from the American Academy of Dermatology:
Generously apply a broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 30 to all exposed skin. "Broad-spectrum" means the sunscreen protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. Re-apply about every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, whenever possible.
Seek shade when appropriate. Remember that the sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand - they reflect the damaging rays of the sun which can increase your chances of sunburn.
Get vitamin D through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements.
Do not use tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look tan, try using a self-tanning product, but also use sunscreen with it.
Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, growing, bleeding on your skin, see a doctor right away. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.
Remember, sand and pavement reflect UV rays even while under an umbrella. Snow and water are also good reflectors of UV rays. Reflective surfaces can reflect most of the damaging sun rays.
Also, take special care to purchase protective eye wear for you and your children. Purchase sunglasses with labels ensuring they provide UV protection.
Be sure to remember that many over-the-counter and prescription medications increase the skin's sensitivity to UV rays. As a result, people can develop a severe sunburn in just minutes when taking certain medications. Read medication labels carefully and use extra sunscreen as needed.
Sunscreens protect the skin against sunburns and play an important role in blocking the penetration of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. However, no sunscreen blocks UV radiation 100 percent.
Terms used on sunscreen labels can be confusing. The protection provided by a sunscreen is indicated by the sun protection factor (SPF) listed on the product label. A product with an SPF higher than 15 is recommended for daily use. Sunscreens contain ingredients that help absorb UV light whereas sunblocks contain ingredients that physically scatter and reflect UVB light. Keep in mind that most sunblock products do not protect against UVA rays. Look for products that have "broad spectrum" coverage that includes protection from UVA rays.
A sunscreen protects from sunburn and minimizes suntan by absorbing UV rays. Using sunscreens correctly is important in protecting the skin. Consider the following recommendations:
- Choose a sunscreen for children and test it on your child's wrist before using. If your child develops skin or eye irritation, choose another brand. Apply the sunscreen very carefully around the eyes.
- Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that filters out both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.
- Apply sunscreens to all exposed areas of skin, including easily overlooked areas, such as the rims of the ears, the lips, the back of the neck, and tops of the feet.
- Use sunscreens for all children over 6 months of age, regardless of skin or complexion type, because all skin types need protection from UV rays. Even dark-skinned children can have painful sunburns.
- Apply sunscreens 30 minutes before going out into the sun to give it time to work. Use it liberally and reapply it every two hours after being in the water or after exercising or sweating. Sunscreens are not just for the beach - use them when you are working in the yard or participating in sports.
- Use a waterproof or water-resistant sunscreen and re-apply after swimming or sweating heavily.
- Use of a sunscreen with SPF of 20 to 30 offers substantial protection from sunburn and prevents tanning. High SPF sunscreens protect from burning for longer periods of time than do sunscreens with lower a SPF. Talk with your older child or teenager about using sunscreen and why it's important. Set a good example for them by using sunscreen yourself.
- Teach your teenager to avoid tanning beds and salons. Most tanning beds and salons use ultraviolet-A bulbs. Research has shown that UVA rays may contribute to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer.
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