Your Largest Organ
Your skin is the largest organ of the human body, and is a protective covering for all of the other vital organs. It weighs approximately six pounds, and covers an average of twenty square feet. The skin protects us from microbes and the elements, helps regulate body temperature, and permits sensations of touch, heat and cold. We tend to take our skin for granted, and while it protects our vital organs from the elements, our skin is exposed to all of the elements, including a very active and powerful star we know as the sun. So let’s learn a little about the sun, so that we can learn to protect our skin.
What Are UV Rays?
The sun produces rays of light, usually we see them as refracted light like the colors in a rainbow, or light rays reflected off of cut crystal. While these are the rays that we can see, there are other rays which are invisible to us. We know them as ultraviolet (UV) rays.
UV radiation is part of the electromagnetic (or light) spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun.
Ultraviolet A (long-wave) or UVA, and Ultraviolet B (shortwave) or UVB, penetrate the atmosphere and make contact with our skin, and play an important role in skin conditions such as premature aging, eye damage (including cataracts), and skin cancer. They also suppress the immune system, reducing your ability to fight off these and other illness.
UV Radiation: An Invisible Enemy
UV radiation damages the skin’s cellular DNA, and too much UV radiation produces genetic mutations that can lead to skin cancer. UV is a proven human carcinogen. UV radiation is considered the main cause of skin cancers, especially the deadliest form, melanoma where fair-skinned people are most at risk. Skin cancer strikes more than a million a year, and melanoma kills more than 8,000 Americans each year.
What is a Tan?
A tan results from injury to the skin’s DNA; the skin darkens in an imperfect attempt to prevent further DNA damage. These mutations (the darkening), can lead to skin cancer.
Tanning booths emit UVA. The high-pressure sunlamps used in tanning salons emit doses 12 times that of the sun! People who use the salons to get a tan are 2.5 times more likely to develop cancer. According to recent research, first exposure to tanning beds in youth increases melanoma risk by 75 percent!
UVA or UVB
UVB rays are mostly responsible for causing cancers on the outer layer of our skin, the epidermis. (UVA rays go deeper into the subcutaneous layers of the skin). UVB rays cause the reddening of the skin and sunburn we get when we lay out in the sun to get a tan. Because of this, UVB rays contribute to tanning and photo-aging. Its intensity varies by season, location, and time of day. The most significant amount of UVB (epidermis damage) hits the U.S. between 10 AM and 4 PM from April to October.
Don't Let Clouds Fool You
However, you can also get damage from these rays year-round, especially at high altitudes, and on reflective surfaces such as snow or ice, which bounce back up to 80 percent of the rays so that they hit the skin twice. UVB rays do not penetrate glass, UVA rays do. Even here in the Deep South, we can get a sunburn when it's overcast (complete cloud-cover)!
Stay Indoors, Stay Out of the Car (pets too!)
Seek a shady place: under a tree, gazebo, covered patio, etc., between 10 AM - 4 PM. Since UVA rays penetrate glass, tint your car windows with UV-protective film. This film blocks up to 99.9 percent of UV radiation and lets in up to 80 percent of visible light. And never leave an infant, child, the elderly, or pets in a car in hot weather. It can get way past 100 degrees - with the windows down.
What to Wear?
•Skin - wear lightweight (linen, cotton) loose-fit clothing
some brands now offer UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing. Higher UPF, the more protected you are. Check an outdoor supply retailer.
•Eyes - sunglasses that say "UV Blocking"
•Head - broad-brimmed hat
If you use sunscreen, make sure the label says Broad-Spectrum - at least for adults. This means it will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. This will benefit you from the penetration of the UVA rays that go deeper.
*Warning: Some people are allergic to the chemicals in sunscreens. Be sure to do a patch test first before full application.
How Much Protection Does a Person Need?
The Skin Cancer Foundation says you must have at least 15 SPF for skin protection.
A Few Known Chemicals To Watch For
Not all persons are allergic or highly sensitive. Below is a short-list:
Chemical absorbers that work on both UVA and UVB are: Dioxybenzone, Oxybenzone, Sulisobenzone
Physical Filters (film the skin) are: Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide
Hopefully, armed with this basic knowledge you will be able to enjoy a sunny day!