UV Rays – What are they and why are they dangerous?

This month is Summer Sun Safety Month. SkinVision & Surfer's Skin presents a series of blog posts that will help you to enjoy the sun safely. 

UV stands for Ultra Violet – basically a ray that is invisible to the human eye. Anything invisible automatically has me on alert because if it’s invisible …we can’t see any of the damage that is occurring …until after it has occurred. Sunburn does not show up straight away. Wrinkles do not show up straight away. That’s UV Rays for you.

There are 3 main types of UV Rays – I know… 3?  I only ever knew about 2…

Let me brief you on them:

UVA – these rays age skin cells and can damage the skin’s DNA.  Basically UVA rays cause wrinkles and only a small role in some skin cancer incidences.

UVB – these rays are the grunters – they cause the MOST damage.  These rays cause that dreaded sunburn and in turn, are responsible for causing the most skin cancer incidences reported.

UVC – these have the strongest energy by far over UVA/UVB rays BUT they cannot get through into our atmosphere – so they have very limited roles in skin cancer incidences.

image from Banana Boat

BUT let’s all use our common sense here – THERE ARE NO SAFE UV RAYS.  Complacency is just as dangerous as the UV Rays.

Here a few handy tips for you

·  UV Rays are strongest between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm.  Re-applying sunscreen, seeking shade or layering up with clothing and wide-brimmed hats is a good idea if you are outside.

·  Summer (and now Spring) show higher UV Ray readings than Autumn and Winter…although higher altitudes show stronger UV Ray readings – so if you are on a winter holiday on the slopes somewhere – you will be exposed to higher UV Rays and the same rule applies as the first bullet point.

·  If you think you are safe from UV Rays because it’s cloudy – well THINK AGAIN!  UV Rays are sneaky. They filter through the clouds and go about their business of infiltrating our skin and wreaking havoc.  The main reason they “wreak havoc” is because we are complacent.
In our mind’s eye we are going “if there’s no sunshine there are no UV Rays”…and that is the biggest falsehood out.  It’s actually worse because we are not armed with our “sun prevention tools” e.g. sunscreen, long sleeve clothing, hats, etc.…

Anyone ever heard of a UV Ray Index?

Great if you have!  This is one sure-fire way to get your mind in tune and thinking about sun protection.  The UV Ray Index is a scale of UV Ray “strengths” based on a number between 1-11.  These numbers signify the intensity of the UV Rays around you and your area.  The higher the number, the greater the risk of overexposure to UV Rays.  In laymen’s terms, this means the higher chance of sunburn or skin damage which could ultimately cause skin cancer.  Also – with the UV Ray index there is often a burn time associated with the rating.  This requires everyone’s serious attention – because if the UVI says burn time is 7 minutes… it IS 7 minutes… and not forgetting skin types, it could be less than that even.

Image from MyUV

UV Rays can be seen as enemy 101 – but there is also the subject of Vitamin D.  It has been suggested by some vitamin D researchers, for example, that around 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm at least twice a week to the face, arms, and legs without sunscreen usually lead to sufficient vitamin D levels.  There are differing Vitamin levels for differing age groups, but in general, if we follow that guideline we should be safe.

If we just remember a few basic rules – we can limit UV Ray overexposure but also get the amount of Vitamin D our body requires.  It is not rocket science – it is actually taking responsibility for one’s self and for those who cannot take responsibility for themselves, we need to step up and do that too.


This blog post is written by Surfer’s Skin, highest care standard sunscreen and one of SkinVision’s partners in a joint mission to bring skin cancer rates down.

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