Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun poses health risks to the skin and eyes. Here are the best ways to counteract the damaging effects of sun exposure.
UV radiation wavelengths are categorized as UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC rays never make it past the ozone layer, but UVA and UVB rays extend to the Earth’s surface. UVA rays are more prevalent and can penetrate to the subcutaneous layer of the skin, while UVB rays penetrate only to the epidermis and dermis layers, and are the main contributors to reddened, sunburned skin. Both UVA and UVB rays pose skin and eye cancer risks, can cause cataracts, and may contribute to macular degeneration.
Sun Safety for Eyes
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends these types of eyewear for the summer:
- Large sunglasses that cover above and below the eye for maximum protection
- Sunglasses rated for UV protection
- Polarized sunglasses to decrease glare
For more information about eye health in the summer, read our previous post “UV Safety Prevents Eye Disease.”
Sun Safety for Skin
The statistics surrounding skin cancer are clear: according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the United States than all other types of cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70, and one person dies of melanoma every hour. What can be unclear is how to recognize potentially cancerous skin abnormalities, and how to best prevent sun damage to the skin.
According to The American Academy of Dermatology, rumors that sunscreen is harmful to the skin are not based in any clinical data or research. The academy maintains that a quality sunscreen, reapplied every two hours and after swimming or exercising is one of the best defenses to sun exposure.
Sunscreens protect the skin by using compounds that absorb, scatter, or reflect UV light. Barrier methods like creams that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are categorized as “sunblock.” These sunscreens reflect sunlight to prevent sunburn. Chemical sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing UVA and UVB rays, and protecting the skin from aging and sunburn. For sensitive skin, sunblock may be a better option.
When deciding on a sunscreen, choose one that:
- Is broad-spectrum (protecting against both UVA and UVB rays)
- Has an sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher
- Is water-resistant
In an interview conducted by the Skin Cancer Foundation with dermatologist and photobiologist Dr. Elizabeth Buzney, she expresses that sunscreen does indeed help prevent skin cancer. In addition to the use of sunscreen, she urges protecting oneself from the sun with hats, sunglasses, and shade. Avoiding direct sunlight during times of intense sunshine (typically considered to be between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) is a wise course of action as well.
For many U.S. states, July is the hottest month of the year. In addition to protecting the skin and eyes, take these precautions to protect against heat exhaustion or heat stroke when temperatures become extremely hot:
- Remain hydrated and drink cool water to reduce body temperature
- Seek shade or go indoors
- Rest and do not participate in physically taxing activities outdoors
If someone reports feeling nauseous or dizzy, or stops sweating when outdoors in extreme heat, seek medical attention.
See our "Understanding Skin Cancer" poster for your classroom or sim lab, and our Precancerous and Cancerous Skin Lesions-Hinged Disk Set to help teach students how to identify dangerous skin conditions.
Beth Telesz, MSN, RN is the Nurse Educator at Pocket Nurse.
The Skin Cancer Foundation: