UV Rays & Skin Safety, Part I

Jul 05, 2024

I’m Meredith Williams, MPH, RN, OCN, director of cancer services at United Hospital Center. July is Ultraviolet Safety Month and I’m here to answer your questions about UV Rays and skin safety.

1. What are UV rays?

The sun sends energy to Earth in a few different ways: visible light that you can see, infrared radiation that you feel as heat, and rays of UV radiation that you can’t see or feel. Fortunately, the Earth’s atmosphere protects us from most UV radiation. Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV rays are an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps. UV rays can damage skin cells.

2. Are there different types of UV rays? If so, how are they different?

Yes. There are three types of UV rays: Ultraviolet A rays (UVA), Ultraviolet B rays (UVB), and Ultraviolet C rays (UVC). The atmosphere does little to shield UVA rays—most UVA radiation reaches Earth’s surface. UVA rays cause skin aging and eye damage, and can lower your body’s ability to fight off illness. UVA rays also contribute to the risk of skin cancer. The Earth’s atmosphere shields us from most UVB rays—the amount of UVB rays that reach the Earth’s surface depends on latitude, altitude, time of year and other factors. UVB rays cause sunburns, skin cancer, skin aging, and snow blindness (a sunburn to your cornea that causes a temporary loss of vision) and can lower your body’s ability to fight illness. UVC rays do not reach the Earth’s surface because they are completely absorbed by the atmosphere. Harmful effects from UVC rays are minimal. The UV radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface is mostly UVA and some UVB. Almost half the daytime total of the more harmful UVB radiation is received between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Even on a cloudy day, you can be sunburned by UVB radiation.

3. Should everyone be mindful of UV exposure?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. While everyone should protect themselves against UV radiation, it is particularly important to protect children. Most of an average person’s UV exposure from the sun occurs before the age of 18. Too much UV exposure or frequent sunburns, particularly during childhood, can make developing skin cancer more likely.

This content was originally posted on the WDTV News website here.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.