Understanding Ultraviolet Radiation and Skin Cancer

UV Radiation (UV Rays) is emitted by the sun. Many types of light bulbs also put off UV rays such as tanning beds, nail dryers and other light boxes.

Types of UV rays

There are three main types of UV rays

  • UVA- These rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays, therefore, playing a major part in skin aging and skin cancer growth
  • UVB- These rays are the main cause of sunburn by damaging the skin’s outer layers. These rays are the main player in the growth of skin cancer.
  • UVC-These rays don’t reach our skin due to the Earth’s atmosphere absorbing them before reaching the surface.

How UV rays affect the skin

UV rays are absorbed by our skins first line of defense, melanin.  However, melanin can’t absorb all the UV rays. Exposure to UV rays is linked to harmful health conditions such as:

  • Sunburn. A sunburn happens when the amount of UV rays exceeds the protection melanin can provide. Sunburn is damage to the skin causing pain, redness, and blistering.
  • Premature aging of the skin. Premature aging of the skin is also called photo-aging.  Photo-aging includes freckling, wrinkling, loss of collagen, brown spots and widening of blood vessels in the skin.   Signs of photo-aging include earlier-than-normal freckling, wrinkling, loss of collagen, and widening of small blood vessels in the skin.
  • Skin cancer. More than 2 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the U.S. each year. Although skin cancer is most common in the older population it can also be found on young individuals.  Protection is always key in prevention.

What is the UV Index?

The UV Index, an official forecast from international weather organizations, estimates how much ultraviolet radiation will reach the Earth’s surface. This can help you plan your sun exposure and guide you on how to prevent burns.  Try to avoid high exposure times.  It notes the risk of overexposure to the sun’s UV rays on a scale from 0 (low) to 11+ (extreme).

Understanding the UV Index

Index  Exposure categories
0 – 2 Low. Low danger from unprotected exposure to the sun. But if you burn easily, cover up and use sunscreen with at least sun protection factor (SPF) 30.
3 – 5 Moderate. A moderate risk of harm from unprotected exposure to the sun. Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and hat if you will be outside. Stay in shade around midday. Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every 90 minutes to 2 hours.
6-7 High. A high risk of harm from unprotected exposure to the sun. Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and hat if you will be outside. Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every 90 minutes to 2 hours. Reduce your time in the sun from 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
8-10 Very High. A very high risk of harm from unprotected exposure to the sun. Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and hat if you will be outside. Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every 80 minutes to 2 hours. Seek shade outdoors. Try to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
11 + Extreme. An extreme risk of harm from unprotected exposure to the sun. Follow all of the above suggestions to protect yourself from the sun. Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and hat if you will be outside. Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every 90 minutes to 2 hours. Seek shade outdoors. Try to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Staying safe in the sun

We all love the sun and can continue to enjoy it by taking the time to protect ourselves and families with sunscreen or clothing.  Don’t hesitate to have annual skin checks if you have had sun damage.  Early detection and treatment is key.

We offer free skin cancer screenings for new patients.

Call our office at High Valley Dermatology to schedule your skin check.   208-525-4888

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