Ultraviolet (UV) radiation or rays usually emit from sunlight and can cause major damage to skin cells that may result in burns and skin cancer, including melanoma. A person can also get UV rays from the use of tanning lights and beds.
There are three types of UV rays:
UVA rays are produced year-round, and enter deeper into the skin and can cause some damage to the cell’s DNA. These rays are linked to premature aging of the skin such as wrinkles, burning, and may be responsible for some skin cancers.
UVB rays are the major cause of sun burns; they directly damage the cell’s DNA and may also cause some skin cancer.
UVC rays are not present in sunlight. They do not reach the earth’s surface because they are blocked by the ozone layer.
The effect of the UV rays will depend on the strength of the rays, the amount of time the skin is exposed, and if the person is protected from the sun by use of sunscreen or clothing. The amount of UV rays reaching the earth is influenced by the time of day, time of year, elevation, and cloud cover which are reported as the UV index. This ranges from 1 to 11+ and the higher the number the greater the risk of sunburn, skin damage and cancer.
There is no group of people that is immune from damage done by UV rays; everyone is at risk! It makes no difference who you are – people of all races can burn and get skin cancer from these UV rays. However, some people with certain skin types may have a higher risk factor. People with darker skin tones should practice sun safety; if they are diagnosed with skin cancer this can be lethal. Research indicates that people with lighter skin tones have a higher rate of skin cancer but lighter skin tone individuals have a much lower survival rate after diagnosis.
It is important for everyone to take precautions by wearing protective clothing, including sunglasses, seeking shaded areas and using sunscreen. Parents should take special precautions to protect children from exposure to UV rays. The ACS identifies 4 steps to remind you to protect yourself from exposure to UV radiation when you are outdoors.
- Slip on a shirt – tightly woven and long sleeved.
- Slop on sunscreen on areas exposed to the sun, especially when sunlight is strongest.
- Slap on a hat (2-3 inch brim) – to protect your ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp.
- Wrap on sunglasses – to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them.
The FDA recently announced significant changes to sunscreen products that should reduce confusion for consumers. Manufacturers are expected to label sunscreen products with information to help consumers make appropriate selection in order to prevent sunburn and reduce their risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.
The Skin Cancer Foundation outlines these new FDA sunscreen rules as follows:
- “Sunscreens may be labeled “broad-spectrum” if they provide protection against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation.
- Only broad-spectrum sunscreens with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher can state that they protect again skin cancer if used as directed with other sun protection measures.
- Sunscreens with an SPF of 2-14 will be required to have a warning stating that the product has not been shown to help prevent skin cancer or early skin aging.
- The terms “sunblock”, “sweatproof” and “waterproof” are no longer allowed on sunscreen labels.
- A sunscreen may claim to be “water resistant”; however, the product must specify if it offers 40 minutes or 80 minutes of protection while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing. Sunscreens that are not water resistant must include a direction instructing consumers to use a water resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating.
- Sunscreens cannot claim to provide sun protection for more than two hours without reapplication.
- Sunscreen manufacturers will have one year to comply with the FDA ruling; smaller companies will have two years.
- The ingredients in sunscreens marketed today have been used for many years and FDA does not have any reason to believe these products are not safe for consumer use.
- The FDA reiterated that sunscreen alone is not enough, and should be used in conjunction with a complete sun protection regimen, including seeking shade, wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts, hats and sunglasses.”
American Academy of Dermatology
Toll free number: 1-888-462-3376 (1-888-462-DERM)Web site: www.aad.org
American Cancer Society
Environmental Protection Agency
Web site: www.epa.gov/ebtpages/humasunprotection.html
National Cancer Institute
Toll-free number: 1-800-422-6237 (1-800-4-CANCER)
Web site: www.cancer.gov
Skin Cancer Foundation
Toll-free number: 1-800-754-6490 (1-800-SKIN-490)
Web site: www.skincancer.org; www.skincancer.org/for-your-eyes.html