Sun Exposure Risks
While a moderate amount of sun exposure typically poses little risk, and may even host a few benefits, an excessive amount of sunlight can be damaging for most individuals. Overexposure to sunlight and UV radiation can cause severe health problems, including skin cancer, photodamage, eye damage, and immune suppression. Understanding these risks and taking precautions can help you enjoy spending time under the sun while reducing your chances of developing sun-related health problems.
The UV radiation from the sun is responsible for the vast majority of facial aging signs, such as wrinkles, dryness, sagging skin, and uneven pigmentation. Photodamage, or photoaging, is characterized as premature aging of the skin marked by internal and external changes to sun-exposed skin that develop over time and cause affected areas to appear leathery, thick, and wrinkled. With proper, long-term, and daily protection from UV radiation, most signs of premature skin aging can be avoided. Actinic keratosis is another UV-related skin disorder in which skin growths develop on the body, specifically on the skin commonly exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands, forearms, neck, chest, and legs. Actinic keratoses are typically raised, reddish, and rough-textured in appearance, and, although premalignant, the presence of these UV-related growths indicates a risk factor for squamous cell carcinoma.
As with the skin, the eyes are likewise susceptible to harmful effects of the sun as a result of the depleting ozone layer. Research points to UV radiation as a leading cause of cataract development. Cataracts are a form of eye damage in which the loss of transparency in the lens of the eye clouds the vision. If left untreated, cataracts can result in blindness. Although for most individuals, the condition is curable with modern surgery — cataracts diminish the eyesight of millions of Americans each year. Other UV-related eye damage includes pterygium (ocular tissue growths that can block vision), skin cancer around the eyes, and degeneration of the macula (the portion of the retina with acute visual perception). Proper eye protection helps lower the risk of developing each of these forms of eye damage. We recommend that patients look for sunglasses, glasses, or contact lenses that offer 99–100 percent UV protection.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Melanoma, the most severe form of skin cancer, accounts for more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. UV exposure and sunburns, particularly during childhood and adolescence, are among the primary risk factors for melanoma. Most melanomas are sun-related, but other possible influences include genetics and immune system deficiencies. Non-melanoma skin cancers — which include basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas — are typically less dangerous than melanomas. If left untreated, however, they can spread and cause disfigurement and other serious health issues. If caught and treated early, non-melanoma skin cancers are rarely fatal.
When skin is exposed to sunlight, it manufactures Vitamin D, which helps keep bones healthy by regulating calcium levels. However, it doesn’t take much sun exposure for the body to produce Vitamin D. When the skin is unprotected, the UV exposure can degrade the body’s health through immune-system suppression. Overexposure to UV radiation may suppress proper functioning of the body’s immune system and the skin’s natural defenses. It’s natural for the skin to mount a defense against cancers, infections, and other types of foreign invaders. If overexposed to UV radiation, however, these defense systems can become weak, reducing the skin’s ability to protect itself against an onset attack. Ground-level ozone, a pollutant emitted by car and truck exhaust, can likewise contribute to a loss of vitamins and antioxidants, aggravate the harmful effects of UV radiation, and accelerate signs of external skin aging.
UVA Vs. UVB
The sun gives off invisible rays of ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are short, high-energy wavelengths that are absorbed by the epidermis — the outermost layer of skin. Skin burns in reaction to UVB rays — the skin responds to UVB rays by producing inflammatory mediators which irritate blood vessels in the dermis, which swell and create the surface redness of the burn. UVB rays likewise affect the genetic material of the epidermis, which causes pre-cancerous skin damage. Other UVB rays can deplete the immune system, interfere with the body’s ability to repair itself, and result in the development of melanoma. Unprotected exposure to the sun’s harmful rays may exacerbate certain predispositions to skin cancer.
Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays are longer than UVB rays. As with UVB rays, UVA rays can also cause a significant degree of damage to the human body and skin. These rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays and affect the DNA of cells in the dermis by attacking cell membranes and altering collagen and elastin proteins, which support the skin’s structure. As a result, UVA rays directly lead to external signs of premature aging, producing wrinkles and sagging of the skin. These rays also contribute to a loss of support with tiny blood vessels in the skin, which causes blood vessels to become permanently dilated, which typically appears as ruddiness or visible spider veins. UVA rays also play a role in the development of skin cancer.
How To Avoid Sun Exposure
The sun’s UV rays can cause skin damage and pose additional health threats in as little as 15 minutes. Stay informed by regularly checking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) UV Index tool, which offers a forecast of the expected risk of overexposure to UV radiation from the sun for most parts of the nation. The UV Index Scale provides additional information about each ultraviolet exposure rating. Additionally, we recommend considering the following tips to best protect your skin and your health from the damaging effects of sun exposure. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our dermatology associates and skincare specialists!
- Opt for shade over sunshine whenever possible
- Choose sun-protective clothing and fabrics
- Wear a tightly-woven, wide-brimmed hat
- Use sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to the entire body
- Frequently and liberally reapply sun protection
- Avoid sun tanning and tanning beds
- Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand
- Check the daily UV Index
Sun-Protective (UPF) Clothing
A safe and simple way to keep UV rays at bay is wearing sun-protective clothing. Clothing can either absorb or blocks harmful UV radiation and remains one of the most effective forms of protection against photodamage and skin cancer. What’s more, sun-protective clothing is the easiest way to shield skin and, when coupled with sunscreen, offers increased protection.
What Is UPF?
Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) indicates the amount of UV radiation a fabric allows to reach the skin. UPF is a standard used to measure the effectiveness of materials that provide the skin with protection from the sun. A significant advantage of UPF over other forms of sun protection is the fact that it measures both UVA and UVB. UPF measurements range from 15 to more than 50 — a 15–24 range blocks approximately 93.3 percent to 95.8 percent of UV; a 25–39 range blocks approximately 96 percent to 97.4 percent; and a 40–50+ range blocks 97.5 percent to 98 percent UV. The higher the UPF value, the more effective the protection of sun-exposed skin.
How To Choose Sun-Protective Clothing
Not all fabrics and colors provide equal protection. To select the best UPF clothing that will adequately shield you from harmful sun rays, consider each item’s color, construction, content, fit, UPF rating, coverage, and activity.
Both dark colors and bright colors prevent UV rays from reaching your skin by absorbing them, rather than allowing them to penetrate the fabric. Fabrics with deep and vibrant colors offer superior protection to those with light shades and colors.
Densely woven fabrics, such as denim, canvas, wool, or synthetic fibers, are typically better at protecting the skin than a sheer, thin, or loosely woven cloth. Hold the item up to natural light — if you can see through, UV rays will likely penetrate it.
The composition of your fabric is essential. Unbleached cotton has natural lignins that absorb UV; shiny polyesters, satins, and silks reflect radiation; and fabrics treated with chemical UV absorbers or dyes can help prevent some UV penetration.
Some clothing companies include UPF labels with their products. These labels offer information that helps consumers indicate how much of the sun’s rays each garment can defend the skin against. Next time you shop, be sure to look for UPF tags!
The more coverage provided by a garment, the better protection to your skin. During daylight hours, especially when the sun is at its peak, opt for long-sleeved shirts and long pants, dresses, or skirts to minimize the amount of exposed skin.
Select clothing based on the activity. Even if a garment offers the maximum amount of UPF protection, clothing that gets wet or stretches inevitably loses some of its protective ability, as it becomes transparent and exposes skin to more UV light.
Loose-fitting clothing is preferable over tight-fitting apparel. Tight clothing can stretch during wear, which reduces the garment’s level of UV protection. As the fibers become separated from each other, UV light passes through the resulting gaps.
Sunscreen is a critical aspect of a complete sun safety strategy. Sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering the sun's UV rays. They may also contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays. While most basic sunscreen products primarily protect the skin from UVB rays, sunscreens labeled broad-spectrum protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Contact our office today to learn more about our range of cosmetic skin care designed to help our patients keep their skin both healthy and beautiful.
What Is SPF?
Sunscreens are rated by their sun protection factor (SPF). A product’s SPF rating helps individuals determine how long the product will protect the skin before it needs to be reapplied. Our dermatologists recommend daily use of broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 or SPF 35 to effectively combat UV rays from damaging the skin. Everyone should apply sunscreen daily to all exposed areas of skin at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. We recommend reapplying sunscreen every hour or two to ensure skin stays protected. Each application should comprise one ounce (a shot glass full) to the entire body and face.
How To Choose Sunscreen
With so many sunscreen options available, it can seem challenging to select the best product for your skin’s needs. The best sunscreen is one that you’re most likely to use each day, so long as it provides safe and effective protection, and is broad spectrum with an SPF 30 or higher. Each of the two types of sunscreen — physical and chemical sunscreen — includes active ingredients that help prevent UV rays from reaching the skin.
Including the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, physical sunscreen products block and scatter the sun’s rays before they penetrate the skin. Physical sunscreens act as a shield to the skin and are less likely to cause skin irritation than chemical sunscreens.
Chemical sunscreen ingredients, such as avobenzone and octisalate, work as a sponge and absorb UV rays before they can reach and penetrate the skin. Chemical formulations can be easier to rub into the skin without leaving a white residue.
Tips For Treating A Sunburn
Sunburns begin to appear 4-6 hours after sun exposure with the full burn developing within 24 hours. Mild burns feature redness and some peeling a day or two afterward. Cold compresses, cool baths, moisturizers, and over-the-counter hydrocortisone are conventional treatments. Remember to drink plenty of water and fluids after a sunburn. Water helps rehydrate the skin and aids in the healing process. Blisters will develop after a severe sunburn. Try not to rupture the blisters as it can interfere with healing and possibly lead to a skin infection. It's also important to avoid sun exposure until the sunburn has fully healed. In severe cases, your dermatologist may prescribe oral steroids to prevent infection along with pain management medications.