What Are The Sources of UV Exposure?

When you think of the perfect summer day, chances are you think of the hot sun blazing in the sky. That’s why July is UV Safety Awareness Month, and it’s also the perfect time to learn more about ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This guide is designed to help you understand what UV radiation is, where it comes from, what its hazards are, and how you can best protect yourself against it. Read on to learn more about UV radiation so you can enjoy safe, healthy summers for years to come.

What Is UV Radiation?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is radiation that primarily comes from the sun and other man-made sources. There are two main types of UV radiation that affect humans: UVA and UVB rays. “UVA rays are lower-energy rays that penetrate deeper into your skin, causing tanning while also helping create wrinkles and making your skin look more aged,” explains Lesley Ott, a certified Nurse Practitioner at Sanova Dermatology in Baton Rouge, Lousiana. In contrast, UVB rays are higher-energy rays that burn the surface of your skin, causing sunburns. Both UVA and UVB are believed to play roles in the development of different skin cancers.

What Are The Hazards Of Exposure To UV Radiation?

“Because UV radiation penetrates your skin, it can damage the DNA in your skin cells,” Ott emphasizes. “This damaged DNA can lead to genetic mutations that can eventually lead to skin cancers, including melanoma or a non-melanoma skin cancer such as basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma,” she continues. Sunburns, which are caused by excessive UV exposure, are particularly hazardous: people who experience even one bad sunburn in their youth are twice as likely to develop melanoma later in their life, as are people who have experienced five or more bad sunburns as an adult.

Where Does UV Radiation Come From?

“Knowing where UV radiation comes from is the first step in knowing how to protect yourself from its harmful effects,” notes Ott. Although the primary source of UV radiation is the sun, there are many man-made sources of UV radiation that are necessary to avoid in order to maintain the health and safety of your skin.

The Sun

Sunlight is the main source of UV radiation on Earth. Of the sun’s UV radiation, 95% comprises UVA rays, and the remaining 5% consists of UVB rays. Due to variations in the Earth’s structure and climate, different areas of the Earth are subjected to more intense UV radiation at different times. In particular, UV radiation is strongest closest to the equator, at high altitudes, during the spring and summer, and during the day (mainly between 10 AM and 4 PM). UV rays can also penetrate cloud cover and bounce off surfaces such as water, snow, and pavement, which unfortunately means that direct sunlight is not required for UV exposure.

Tanning Beds and Sun Lamps

Tanning beds emit the same UV radiation found in the sun in order to cause tanning. “Tanning beds and booths primarily emit UVA rays, which can lead to the same damaging effects caused by the UV radiation emitted by the sun,” warns Ott. A recent study found that 97% of respondents who were diagnosed with melanoma under the age of 30 had used tanning beds before, and tanning beds have been shown to cause just as much damage as outdoor tanning. Moreover, tanning beds do not provide even the most basic benefits that sunlight does, as they cannot provide tanners with vitamin D or the mood boost that time spent in the sunshine can. Overall, because they expose tanners to prolonged UV radiation, tanning beds are extremely hazardous.

UV Light Treatment

UV light treatment, which is also called phototherapy, is a medical procedure that involves taking a drug to make one’s skin sensitive to light and then exposing certain areas of one’s skin to UV light. This treatment is commonly used to treat skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, as well as certain types of skin cancer. While phototherapy can be risky, as it could lead to the possibility of skin cancer later in life, it can be an effective treatment when safely and responsibly administered by a medical professional.

Black Lights

Black lights, whether in the form of lamps or flashlights, emit UV light. Some also emit violet light that allows their user to determine whether the light is on since UV light is invisible to humans. Black lights have a wide range of medical uses, and they can also be used to identify phosphorescent materials, attract insects to bug zappers, or illuminate artwork. However, they should still be used with caution. As they primarily emit UVA rays, black lights can still cause skin damage, and they can also cause damage to the eyes.

How Can I Protect Myself From UV Radiation?

Protecting yourself from UV radiation is an important component of keeping your skin healthy. “When you’re outside and exposed to the sun, try to cover up as much as possible,” Ott suggests. “Wearing sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and a healthy coat of sunscreen is crucial to minimizing the impact that UV radiation can have on your skin,” she continues. Remember that UV rays can penetrate cloud cover and bounce off surfaces such as water and grass, so take precautions even when it doesn’t seem particularly sunny outside.

If you’re desperate to show off a sun-kissed look, skip the tanning booth or bed. Sunless tanning products, such as bronzers, are a safer way to show off a new summer look without severely damaging your skin’s health. If you own any blacklight products, avoid prolonged exposure to decrease the damage to your skin. Finally, don’t forget to perform a skin self-exam every month and schedule an annual checkup with your dermatologist to make sure that your skin isn’t showing any of the common warning signs of skin cancer.

Contact Us

Ultraviolet radiation can be difficult to avoid. However, it can greatly damage the health of your skin, and it’s worth taking seriously. By taking the proper precautions when you’re outside and avoiding man-made sources of UV radiation, you can ensure that your skin maintains a healthy glow for years to come. If you have any questions about sun exposure or skin cancer, schedule a consultation with the experienced dermatologists at Sanova Dermatology today.

About Lesley Ott, FNP-C

Lesley is a certified Family Nurse Practitioner through the American Association of  Nurse Practitioners and is licensed through the Louisiana State Board of Nursing. She has a long history working in healthcare, receiving degrees as a Licensed Practical Nurse in 2011,  Bachelors of Science in Nursing in 2015, and Masters of Science in Nursing in 2020.

Lesley has almost 5 years of dermatology experience working as a Registered Nurse at  Sanova Dermatology. Her experience includes working with medical and cosmetic dermatology patients and Mohs surgical patients. Her passion for connecting with and educating patients on prevention and treatment is a driving factor in her current practice. She is accepting new dermatology patients of all ages. Lesley is excited to be a part of your journey to achieve healthy skin, hair, and nails.

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