As the sun blazes this summer and you head outdoors for some fresh air, exercise, and socially distanced fun, don’t forget to protect yourself from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. The US Department of Health and Human Services has designated July as UV Safety Month, which makes this the perfect time to educate yourself on the damaging effects of UV rays and how to keep you and your family safe in the sun this summer.
Did you know the sun’s UV rays can damage your skin after just 15 minutes of exposure? For more information, refer to our article covering the types of UV radiation and what factors affect the levels that reach the earth’s surface. The important thing to note is that prolonged exposure to UV radiation can contribute to serious health issues.
Spending too much time in the sun without protection leads to more than just a painful sunburn. It increases your risk for developing skin cancer—the most common form of cancer in the US—with more than five million cases diagnosed each year. This includes common and curable forms (basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma) as well as less common but more dangerous forms (melanoma). Severe cases of skin cancer can even lead to death.
But the sun’s harmful UV rays can also cause additional health complications including cataracts, a weakened immune system, and premature aging of the skin.
The UV Index
The UV Index is a powerful tool that can help you gauge the safety of spending time outdoors, much like checking the daily weather forecast. Developed by the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the UV Index forecasts the expected risk of sun overexposure. Using a scale of 0 to 11+, the UV Index predicts UV intensity levels calculated for every US zip code. An index value of 2 or less signifies a low risk of sun overexposure, while 11+ points to an extreme risk.
Tips for Proper Sun Protection
To reduce your chance of sun overexposure, take these simple precautions whenever you step outside.
- Check the UV Index.
- Seek shade.
- Avoid being out in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest.
- Generously apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
- Wear protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and long-sleeve shirt and pants.
- Use extra caution near reflective surfaces (like water and sand) that can increase your chance of a sunburn.
- Examine your skin monthly to detect new or changing skin spots.
To learn more about protecting yourself from UV radiation, check out the resources available through NEEF’s free SunWise program, including a toolkit for sharing information with your children or students.