Sun exposure, ultraviolet rays damage skin, health

| June 25, 2010 | 0 Comments


Dr. Wayne Combs
U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional)

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Ultraviolet rays are a part of sunlight that is an invisible form of radiation. There are three types of UV rays: ultraviolet A, B and C. 

Scientists believe that UVA radiation can cause damage to connective tissue and increase a person’s risk for developing skin cancer. 

UVB rays penetrate less, but can still cause some forms of skin cancer. 

Natural UVC rays do not pose a risk because they are absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere.

Because light-colored sand reflects UV light and increases the risk of sunburn, Soldiers are especially vulnerable when in the field or deployed to places like Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Soldiers and families that live in sandy areas like Hawaii are also vulnerable. 

Sunlight exposure is highest during the summer, especially between 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and UV rays may reach exposed skin from the sky and from reflecting off the ground. This can cause burns even on cloudy days. 

Sunburn does not show up immediately, symptoms usually start about four hours after exposure, worsen in 24 to 36 hours, and may last for three to five days.

Many drugs, including ibuprofen or Motrin, increase the risk of sunburn.

Years of overexposure to the sun lead to premature wrinkling, aging of the skin, age spots and an increased risk of skin cancer, so wear sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15 to prevent sunburn. 

SPF refers to the amount of time that a person will be protected from a burn. An SPF of 15 will allow a person to stay out in the sun 15 times longer than he or she normally would be able to stay without burning. 

The SPF rating applies to skin reddening and protection against UVB exposure. SPF does not refer to protection against UVA. Products containing Mexoryl, Parsol 1789, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or avobenzone block UVA rays.

Sunscreen performance is affected by wind, humidity, perspiration and proper application. 

Old sunscreens should be thrown away because they lose their potency after one to two years. 

Sunscreens should be liberally applied. Use a minimum of one ounce at least 20 minutes before sun exposure. Special attention should be given to covering the ears, scalp, lips, neck, tops of feet and backs of hands. 

Sunscreens should be reapplied at least every two hours and each time a person gets out of the water or perspires heavily. 

Some sunscreens may be less effective when applied with insect repellents, apply sunscreen more frequently when the two products are used together.

Wear dark clothing with a tight weave to protect against sunburn, rather than light-colored, loosely woven clothing.

In addition to the skin, eyes can get burned from sun exposure. Long-term exposure to the sun can lead to cataracts and has been linked to the development of macular degeneration.

Wear sunglasses with almost 100 percent UV protection and with side panels to prevent excessive sun exposure and damage to the eyes. Hat brims provide additional protection for eyes.

There are several first aid steps for treating minor sunburn: 

  • Take ibuprofen, acetaminophen or Tylenol to relieve sunburn pain and headaches, and to reduce a fever.
  • Drink plenty of water, take cool baths or apply cool, wet cloths on the burned area.
  • Avoid further exposure to the sun until the burn has resolved.


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