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Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Ultraviolet Radiation 101

What You Need to Know About Ultraviolet Radiation

Knowing how to spot the early signs of skin cancer is important to getting effective treatment. But before you even think about that, you’ll need to know about one of the most dangerous contributing factors to skin damage: ultraviolet radiation.

What Is Ultraviolet Radiation?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation that comes from both natural and man-made sources. Naturally, the biggest source of UV radiation is our own sun. As far as man-made sources of UV radiation, tanning beds and welding torches are some of the most common that emit UV radiation when used. UV radiation is split into three main groups.

UVA Rays – These rays have the least energy of all types of UV radiation. They can cause skin cells to age and may play a role in some types of skin cancer.

UVB Rays – This type of UV radiation is a bit stronger than UVA rays and can damage skin cells directly. It’s thought that this type of radiation is what causes most sunburns.

UVC Rays – Of all the types of UV radiation, UVC rays have the most energy. As a result of this, they react with ozone in the atmosphere and don’t reach the ground, which means they don’t normally pose a risk to skin cells.

How Are We Exposed to UV Radiation?

As we discussed above, the largest natural source of UV radiation is our own sun. When you’re outside, you’re typically being exposed to UV radiation. That said, there are certain factors that affect how much UV exposure you’re receiving. These factors include the time of day, the season, your distance from the equator, and your altitude. Clouds may also affect UV exposure to some degree, though UV rays can still reach the surface of the earth even on a cloudy day.

What Are the Risks of too Much UV Exposure?

First and foremost, too much UV radiation exposure can cause a nasty sunburn. Not only is it unpleasant, but sunburn means your skin cells have been damaged. And more than one severe sunburn may damage skin cells on a genetic level. This is the kind of damage that can lead to skin cancer.

There are two kinds of skin cancer diagnoses that have been directly linked to excessive UV radiation exposure: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Fortunately, both of these cancers can be treated and, more often than not, cured, if they’re caught early enough.

Melanoma, another type of skin cancer that has been linked to UV exposure, is more likely to develop if you have a history of excessive sunburn. This type of cancer is more difficult to treat and can spread rapidly to other areas of your body and internal organs.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself?

UV radiation might sound a little scary. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple things you can do to protect your skin. First, wear sunscreen with at least SPF 30+ every day, especially when you plan on being outside. If you plan on being in the sun for extended periods of time, make sure to reapply every few hours. In addition, be mindful of what times you choose to be outside. It’s typically most dangerous between the hours of 10am and 4pm. Wearing protective clothing such as hats and longer sleeves can also help. And when in doubt, seek out a shady spot to spend some time in.

The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from UV radiation is learn how it affects your skin. If you have more questions or want to schedule a skin cancer screening, contact our team at North Pacific Dermatology to set up an appointment today.

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