UV Rays and the Effects on Our Skin

When we are in the sun, taking steps to avoid excess exposure and protecting our skin will keep our skin healthy and delay the formation of wrinkles.

The first step is to gain an understanding of what ultraviolet rays are. Radiation energy is transmitted from the sun reaching the Earth in the form of UV rays. The Earth's ozone layer provides some protection, however, over the last several decades the ozone layer has been disintegrating, making us more susceptible to ultraviolet ray damage. Do not be fooled that just because it's overcast or a cloudy day, we are still exposed to ultraviolet rays.

Our skin is made up of a natural chemical called melanin and when UV rays reach it they interact. UV rays are absorbed by the melanin, protection our skin against sun damage. The chemical reaction is what gives skin a tanned look. Sunburn is a result when the amount of UV rays we are exposed to exceeds the protection provided by melanin.

Continuous overexposure to UV rays can often lead to skin damage in various forms, such as:

  • Fine lines
  • Wrinkles
  • Freckles, age spots and other discolorations
  • Scaly red patches
  • Leathery, tough skin that looks and feels dry and rough

The sun has also been linked to causing numerous types of skin-cancer, including life-threatening melanoma, cataracts which impair vision and eye damage, and a weakened immune system leaving the body less able to fight off infection.

Following a few simple steps can help protect our skin from wrinkles and other skin damage.

1. Sunscreen – use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 every day. Choose products that provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Generously apply sunscreen and when in the sun for extended periods of time, remember to reapply every two hours.

2. Protective clothing – consider wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, whenever possible. Wear sunglasses to protect the eyes and skin and for further protection wear a wide-brimmed hat.

3. Peak sun hours – during the hottest part of the day, 10 am to 4 pm, when the sun's rays are at their most intense, try staying in the shade

4. UV index – this is a daily indicator usually broadcasted along with the local weather report that identifies how much UV radiation is expected to reach the earth. Ratings of 1 to 2 are considered low, whereas anything over 11 is very high. We are more at risk of overexposure to UV rays with the higher numbers.

5. Tanning beds – emit the same UV rays that come from the sun. They are not a safe way to tan contrary to popular belief.

6. Sunless tanning products – if you really like the look of tanned skin then try products specifically made for that or indulge on a salon spray-on tan.

Remember that while the sun feels warm and inviting, exposure to UV rays can come at a cost. Protecting our skin from sun damage will lessen our risk of wrinkles, age spots and possible skin cancer.