Summer has finally arrived. As we indulge in the warmth of the sun, there is no better time to highlight July as UV Safety Awareness Month.

There are many reasons why we all love the summer. As we enjoy our favourite outdoor activities, we must not forget to protect our skin and eyes from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays (UV). With that in mind, it is essential to understand the risks of UV exposure and taking preventive measures while we enjoy the summer.

Types of UV Rays

Numerous studies show that sunlight has impressive health benefits. The sun’s UVB rays help the body make vitamin D, which is essential for the bones, immune system, and blood cells. Without this nutrient, the body may not be able to metabolize calcium and phosphorus.

However, not all UV rays are good for our health. The sun emits three types of UV that affect our health differently. The table below sums up the differences between the three types of UV rays:

Penetrates deeper layers of skin. Affects the top layer of the skin. Absorbed by the surface level of skin
Linked to photo-ageing and skin damage, such as dark spots Causes sunburn, damage to the skin’s DNA, and skin cancers Not a risk factor for skin cancer
Not absorbed by the ozone layer Most UV rays are absorbed by the ozone layer, but some still reach the Earth’s surface Completely absorbed by the ozone layer and atmosphere
Penetrates clouds and glass windows Does not significantly penetrate glass Present in man-made sources of UVC radiation, like welding torches and mercury lamps

Known Health Effects of UV

While everyone is at risk of UV damage, some individuals have higher risks than others. People with the following characteristics should be extra careful of UV exposure:

  • Fair complexion
  • Red, blond, or light brown hair
  • 20 or more moles, or several larger moles (5 millimetres or more)
  • Freckles
  • Prior severe sunburns
  • A hereditary disorder, such as Lupus, Gorlin’s syndrome, or xeroderma pigmentosum
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Organ transplant patients
  • Those who had radiotherapy treatment for psoriasis and other skin conditions

UV rays cause skin damage that can lead to premature ageing

Additionally, the following factors can increase your risk of UV damage:

  • Work requiring time outdoors (gardener, farmer, lifeguard, construction worker)
  • Sunbathing or using tanning equipment
  • Living in higher altitude areas or tropical regions
  • Taking medications that increase sensitivity to UV rays, like antibiotics, antidepressants, oral contraceptives, anti-inflammatories, and tranquillizers
  • Coming in contact with certain chemicals, like asphalt, paraffin wax, petroleum products, coal tar, and arsenic

The natural protection of our atmosphere from the sun’s harmful UV rays has decreased over the years due to the depletion of the ozone layer. As a result, we are exposed to increasing levels of UV rays. Understanding the risks and taking preventive measures helps us enjoy the heat of the sun while reducing sun-related health problems.

The risk of skin cancer increases with overexposure to UV rays

  • Skin cancer – The sun’s UV rays is considered as an environmental human carcinogen that causes skin cancer. Many studies show that sun exposure is the most prominent cause of three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Additionally, further studies find that 90 percent of skin cancers are due to UV radiation.
  • Premature skin ageing – When the UV penetrates deep into the skin, it destroys collagen and connective tissues. Over time, it results in premature ageing, making the skin thick, wrinkled, and leathery. UV damage can change skin tone, increase wrinkles, or cause blotchy pigmentation.

Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can cause cataracts

  • Eye damage – Prolonged UV exposure or high intensities of UV can destroy eye tissues, resulting in photokeratitis or “snow blindness.” While its effects disappear within a few days, serious complications can occur later in life. Additionally, some studies have found that even low intensity of UV rays can increase the risk of cataracts, pterygium, and pinguecula.
  • Immune suppression – Health experts reported that overexposure to UV radiation could result in the suppression of the body’s immune system. Your skin naturally protects you from foreign invaders like viruses, bacteria, and fungi. However, overexposure to UV rays weakens the skin’s natural ability to protect the skin from these invaders.

Tips to Protect Yourself from Harmful UV

Did you know that UV rays can still affect your skin even on a cloudy day? However, the effects of UV ray exposure are cumulative, and it is never too late to start a skin protection programme.

Luckily, protecting your skin from UV rays is relatively straightforward. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Cover up – If you want to enjoy the warmth of the sun, make sure to wear long sleeves and long pants to keep your skin well-covered. Also, wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and neck from dangerous prolonged exposure. Wearing dry, dark-coloured garments offer the best protection from UV exposure.

Keep your skin well-protected with sunscreen

  • Use sunscreen – Follow the directions found on the label and apply sunscreen generously on your face, neck, ears, arms, and other areas that are exposed to the sun. Use a sunscreen with SPF of at least 15. The higher the SPF, the more effective it can protect you against skin damage. Reapply sunscreen every two hours to maintain protection.
  • Avoid direct sun exposure – Avoid exposing your skin to direct sunlight, especially in the middle of the day, from 10 AM to 4 PM, because UV rays are the strongest during this time. Additionally, sunlight can be reflected by sand and snow. That is why it is essential to take extra precautions when you are at the beach or a ski resort as it can expose you to UV rays in every direction.
  • Wear UV-absorbent sunglasses – UV-blocking sunglasses helps protect the delicate skin around your eyes and the eyes themselves. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can increase your risk of eye damage. Choose sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. The label should indicate “UV absorption up to 400 nanometres” or “Meets ANSI UV Requirements.”

Tanning devices exposes you to harmful UVC rays

  • Stay away from tanning beds and equipment – Many people think that using tanning beds and equipment are the safest way to get a tan because they are free of harmful UV rays. These cosmetic devices make your skin look attractive only for a short time, but you could increase your risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

With today’s cosmetic technology, you can repair or even reverse the damage caused by UV exposure. There are effective ways to give your skin the care and protection it deserves.

Laser Essential and Skin Care is your go-to clinic in Toronto for superior quality and affordable cosmetic and laser treatment for any skin problems. Using state-of-the-art technology, our skin care specialist offers laser skin rejuvenation to restore the beauty and youthfulness of your skin. Call us now at (416) 226-0744 to book an appointment. Keep your skin healthy and well-protected all year round.