Effects of Sun Exposure

Effects of Sun Exposure

Summer is approaching and most of us are gearing up for outdoor fun in the sun. The warmth of the sun on our skin feels good to most of us, but it is important to remember that sun exposure can be harmful.  

It is important to protect yourself to help reduce the harmful effects of sun exposure. 

Background 

The sun gives off rays of light that can help and harm us. These are known as ultraviolet (UV) rays. There are three different types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. 

UVA rays are the most common form of sun exposure. UVB rays make up less of the sun exposure, but are more intense. UVC rays are the worst. Luckily, we are not at risk of UVC rays. The earth’s ozone layer blocks these rays. 

Too much sun exposure allows UV rays to reach the inner skin layers. This can be harmful and lead to: 

  • Skin changes. Some skin cells with melanin can form a clump. This creates freckles and moles. Over time, these can develop cancer. 
  • Early aging. Time spent in the sun makes your skin age faster than normal. Signs of this are wrinkled, tight, or leathery skin and dark spots. 
  • Eye injuries. UV rays can damage the tissue in your eyes. They can burn your outer layer called the cornea. They also can blur your vision. Over time, you can develop cataracts. This can cause blindness if left untreated. 
  • Skin cancer. Most skin cancer is nonmelanoma. It is very common, but also very treatable. Melanoma skin cancer is not as common, but is more severe. Skin cancer can spread to other areas in your body, especially if left untreated. 

Everyone is at risk of the effects of sun exposure. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what color your skin is. Your risk increases based on the length and depth of exposure. You are at greater risk if you have fair skin or moles. Family history of skin cancer also is a factor. People who work in the sun all day are at greater risk as well.  

Prevention 

You can prevent the harmful effects of sun exposure. Follow these proven guidelines recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

  • Use sunscreen. The higher the SPF, the more it will protect against UV rays. The FDA suggests using SPF 15 or greater. Broad-exposure sunscreen blocks out both UVA and UVB. You should apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside. Remember to apply overlooked areas, like your ears, lips, and hairline. You should reapply sunscreen every 2 hours. You also should reapply after swimming or sweating. 
  • Plan your exposure. Avoid direct sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when the sun’s rays are strongest. Be careful in locations that are closer to the equator. 
  • Take breaks. Too much sun exposure is harmful. Go inside, get in the shade, or use an umbrella. 
  • Cover up. Wear clothing and hats to protect your skin from UV rays. This should always apply to babies and kids, who are more sensitive. You also should wear sunglasses that block UV rays. 

When to see your doctor 

Ask your doctor about regular screenings. These can help detect early signs of skin cancer. You also can check for new or changing skin spots at home. Contact your doctor if you notice anything unusual. This includes a spot that hurts, itches, or has changed color or shape. 

Your doctor will perform an exam to look at your skin. They might need to remove part or all the spot to take a biopsy. This will show if the spot contains cancer or not. Your doctor will work with you on treatment if they find cancer. 

 

Urban Family Practice’s mission is to provide the highest quality, comprehensive, patient-centered healthcare to you and your family in a compassionate manner. 

They provide continuous and comprehensive health care to the individual and the entire family. For more information visit https://www.urbanfamilypractice.org/ 

Resources 

American Academy of Family Physicians, Clinical Recommendation on Skin Cancer 

 

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