What is UV sun exposure and how do I protect myself from it?

Agnesian Cancer Care
Sun and clouds

Often when we read or hear about skin cancer and sun exposure the term UV will be used. UV is short for ultraviolet radiation and it is given off by the sun, as well as tanning beds. The UV rays have three different wavelengths called UVA, UVB and UVC. The different wavelengths determine how deep the UV rays can go into the skin and the type of damage that will occur.

UVA – these rays cause skin to age and look older; they are responsible for wrinkles and can cause some skin cancer.

UVB – these rays are well known to damage and kill the DNA of skin cells which then causes sun burn and skin cancer.

UVC – these rays don’t reach Earth and aren’t a concern

The amount of UV radiation given off by the sun is different from day to day and across the country. The National Weather Service calculates a UV Index each day to help people know when UV ray exposure is high. The UV radiation scale goes from a low score of one to a high score of 11. If the UV is high, a UV alert will be posted. For more information on UV Index visit epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html.

How to read the UV Index

Score                           UV Danger

1  2                              Low Risk

3  4 5                           Medium Risk

6  7                              High Risk

8  9  10                        Very High

11                                Extreme

How to Protect Yourself from UV Rays

UV rays are what can cause skin cancer and these rays are what people need to protect themselves against when working and playing outdoors. Here are some simple ways to protect yourself and your family:

  • Cover Up -  The best way to protect your skin from UV rays is to wear clothing that covers your skin like long sleeve shirts, pants and wide brimmed hats.
  • Find Shade – Try to stay out of the sun when the UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. in the morning and 4 p.m. in the afternoon.
  • Use Sunblock or Sunscreen – When going out in the sun, use at least an SPF of 30 or greater and read the bottle to make sure it is broad-spectrum and protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Make sure to reapply often.
  • Check the UV Index – If the UV reading is high, be sure to take extra steps to protect yourself and your family.
  • Stay Away from Tanning Beds – It’s hard to stay out of the sun, but you can choose to not use a tanning bed or lamp.

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