The Sun is approximately 93 million miles away and is about 109 times larger than the earth. At the centre of the Sun, the temperature is about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit and on the surface about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The intense energy and heat produced by the Sun radiates in all directions in space, and some of this energy, thankfully, reaches the earth . The small portion that reaches the earth warms our atmosphere and planet, drives weather patterns around the globe, sustains life on earth, helps our skin produce vitamin D, and creates the beautiful sunny days with memorable sunrises and sunsets that we all enjoy. The intensity of the sun is so strong, though, that on both sunny days and cloudy days, without protection, you run the risk of burning your skin.
Solar radiation consists largely of electromagnetic energy, and includes X rays, infrared radiation, radio emissions, visible light, and ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV rays are divided into three categories, UVA rays, UVB rays and UVC rays. Ninety-five per cent of the UV rays that reach the earth are of the UVA variety, while the remaining five per cent are UVB rays. The UVC rays which contain the most energy react with the atmosphere's ozone layer, and fortunately don't reach the ground.
Of the other two varieties, the UVB rays are the main rays that damage the skin's DNA cells, cause sunburn, and are thought to cause most skin cancer. UVA rays, containing less energy, also do some damage to the skin's DNA, are generally associated with premature aging and long term skin damage, and also play a role in some skin cancers. If you are going to be outside it's necessary to protect your skin and eyes from these rays. If you happen to work outside it's even more important. Skin damage due to UV rays is cumulative and daily exposure to the sun adds up over time. Even on cloudy days UV radiation is able to cause skin damage on exposed areas.
Staying aware of the sun's intensity and getting into the habit of taking a few precautionary measures can help you avoid the most serious effects of sun radiation. The following practices are useful to keep in mind:
- Stay aware of the UV Index Level. Most weather services/apps report this number. When the number is 10 or above people should try to stay indoors.
- Limit your exposure to the sun. The sun is most intense between the hours of 10AM and 4PM. Use shade to your advantage.
- Apply sunscreen and lip balm throughout the year with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen that is water resistant, and protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Follow the manufacturers recommended application.
- Wear protective and breathable clothing that have an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating. This number indicates the amount of UV rays that can penetrate the fabric. Obviously the more skin covered, the less exposure to the sun. Long sleeved shirts and pants will maximize coverage.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat to shade your face, neck, head, and ears.
- Wear sunglasses that block UV rays and never look directly at the sun.
- Be especially aware around reflective surfaces like water, snow and sand. The reflection of the sun in addition to direct sunlight can quickly lead to skin damage.
- Avoid tanning salons, tanning beds, and tanning lamps.
- Make sure to hydrate properly during the day.
- Be aware of any medicines that you are taking that might make you more sensitive to the sun.
Sunshine is a beautiful thing and makes us feel good. With adequate protection we can enjoy the sun and ensure that our skin stays healthy and out of harms way.
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