Nature of UV radiations
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic (EM) radiations produced by the sun and transmitted through space to Earth. EM radiations are also artificially produced from sources such as welding torches, tanning beds and UV lamps. The UV radiations are a small part of wider spectrum of radiations called the EM radiations. This EM spectrum has radiations of differing energy and penetrating power. As a rule, the radiations with higher energy (such as X rays or gamma rays) have a higher penetration power than radiation with lower energy (such as radio waves).
The UV radiations are in the middle of these radiations with a relatively moderate penetration power. This penetration power allows the UV radiation to penetrate the skin and affect skins cells causing problems such as sunburns, skin cancer and long-term skin damage such as wrinkles. In this article, we will discuss how to protect the skin from UV radiations both from the sun and from man-made sources.
Different types of radiations
UV radiations are ground in 3 categories. We will discuss each in turn in the order of increasing severity.
- UV-A radiations. These have the least energy (and least penetrating power) of all the UV radiations. They are readily produced by the sun and from man-made sources such as welding torches. These radiations can cause damage to the skin cells and affect the aging of the cells. For these reason, these UV rays are believed to responsible for permanent skin damage in the long run such as wrinkles. These rays also affect cell DNA – although indirectly. It is not fully established if these rays have a role in skin cancer.
- UV-B radiations. These UV rays have much more energy (and hence more penetration power) than UVA radiations. Due to their penetration power, these rays can directly affect the cell’s DNA causing some serious cell damage. These rays are believed to responsible for most skin cancers. These type of UV radiations also causes sunburns and other related skin irritations.
- UV-C radiations. These have the most energy than the others and have the most penetration power. This gives UVC the highest capability of all the other types of UV radiation to cause significant cell damage. Fortunately, due their high energy, these rays react with the ozone in the high atmosphere and do not reach the surface. As a result, they don’t normally pose a threat to skin cancer or other skin irritations. However, these rays may be produced on the surface by manmade processes such as arc welding torches, UV sanitizing bulbs, mercury lamps and others.
Use clothing to protect your skin
Clothing are important as they the first (and at times the only) barrier of the sun’s UV radiations. The degree to which this method is effective highly dependent on other factors. The type of clothes have a significant effect on the efficiency. Clothes that may protect you include long sleeve shirts, long pants, long skirts; clothes that cover most of the skin are the most effective. Dark colors have been found to be more effective than their light-colored counter parts. Clothes with tightly fabric protects better the loosely woven ones. Dry fabric is more effective at resisting UV radiation than wet fabric.
Protect your skin with sunscreen
Sunscreen is a substance that you can be applied on your skin to protect it from the sun’s UV radiation. They come in many forms some of which are: creams, gels, sprays, wipes, lip balms, and lotions. In addition to special sunscreens, some cosmetics and make up have sunscreen in their products. These are usually indicated on the container in terms of Sun Protection Factor (SPF). It is important to realize that sunscreens are mere filters, they do not protect you from all the UV radiations. Sunscreens are usually labelled with an SPF number.
The Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
This is a number assigned to a sunscreen product that indicates the level of protection against UV radiation offered by the product. The type of UV radiations mostly filtered by sunscreens is the UVB radiations – one that is mostly responsible for sunburns. Thus, a higher SPF number translates to a higher UVB protection. Sunscreens with SPF of 30 and above are recommended, the SPF can be as high as 100+ for some sunscreens. The SFP number however, does not say anything about UVA and UVC protection. Therefore, the sunscreen should not be a substitute for other protection methods such as clothing, nor should it provide validation for extended exposure in a UV environment.
Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps
Contrary to some popular beliefs, the UV rays from tanning beds is harmful. Tanning beds produce UVA and at time UVB radiations, both of which have a long-term damage to the skin. The UVA radiation speeds up skin aging. UVA could also potentially cause cancer to the user. Most skin experts and doctors do not recommend using tanning beds. Some do not recommend using sun lamps either.
Equally well, you should avoid such things like welding torches. If you work at such an environment, you should always wear sunscreen and reapply every few hours. Sun lamps give out UVA radiations. While they may have a low risk for causing cancer, they can damage skin cells and in the long run cause wrinkles. Sun lamps can be found in some nail salons, expert recommend that sunscreen be used before drying your nail polish with that sun lamp.
The closing statement of this article is this: there are no safe UV radiations. Generally, anyone who is under constant exposure of UV radiation is at risk of skin cancer and other skin damages discussed in this article. There is measure of the quantity of the UV radiation in an area on a given day called the UV Index. The UV index will indicate the amount of the UV radiations present in your area on a particular day.
The UV index now forms part of many weather forecasts in the US; the scale giving you distinct information on current UV radations. You may want to check the UV radiation Index before you go to the beach or perform other activities out in the sun, which you can do by going directly to EPA.gov’s UV Index checker by zip code. It is also important to note that some people may be more vulnerable to UV radiations for a number of reasons.
For residents outside the US, you can visit the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) UV Index by country. You can read more on their UV Index scale and how to read it here.
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