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August 2021 Newsletter
We are now in the middle of the summer season, and many of us are taking advantage of the hot weather by spending more time outdoors. Our bodies were built to make good use of the sun, and the benefits are multiple.
Sunlight helps keep our sleeping patterns on track so we can stay awake by day and sleep soundly at night. Getting too little sun, especially in winter months, can leave some people prone to a form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder. Sunlight also helps our skin make vitamin D, which is needed for normal bone function and health.
Yet as we know too much sun exposure can cause major damage to our health. Sunlight sends a whole spectrum of light down to Earth. Some parts of that spectrum of light are obvious. Infrared radiation is what heats us up. We may not see it, but we can feel it. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation are at the other end of the light spectrum. We do not see it, we do not feel it, until it is too late. UV radiation can burn and damage our skin without us ever becoming warm.
From the sunlight there are two basic types of UV rays, UVB and UVA, both contributing to tanning of the human skin. UVA is the dominant tanning ray which produces the golden tan. UVA makes up 95% of all the UV rays that make it to the Earth’s surface. It penetrates deep into our skin and damages it, resulting in a tan. Although counting for 5% of the UV rays entering the atmosphere, UVB has very high energy and can wreak havoc the top layers of the skin. When people notice their skin turning red and develop a sunburn, this is due to UVB.
The sun plays a huge role in the health of our skin. As we get older, it becomes harder for skin to repair itself. Over time, UV damage can take a toll on our skin and its underlying connective tissue. UVA and UVB upset delicate processes that affect the skin’s growth and appearance. UVA overexposure may cause toughening of the skin, wrinkling, loss of elasticity, sun spots, cataract formation in the eyes, and even suppression of the immune system. UVB rays has been known to cause harmful effects such as sunburns, cataracts and can harm the genetic material (called DNA mutation) within that can eventually lead to clumps of extra cells called a tumor, or lesion. These may be harmless (benign) or cancerous, including the deadly black mole form of skin cancer (malignant melanoma). Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the developed countries, and more than 90% of skin cancer is caused by sun exposure. Skin cancer may first appear as a small spot on the skin. Some cancers reach deep into surrounding tissue and in worst cases they may spread from the skin to other organs of the body.
Limit exposure, stay in the shade
Constant and direct exposure to the sun is never good. UV rays can damage the skin in as little as 15 minutes. Alternating between sun and shade helps limit the harmful effects of the UV rays. Sun exposure between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM should be limited because that is when the sun’s rays are most intense.
Choose the right sunscreen
Sunscreen is one of the best ways of protecting ourselves from the sun. A SPF 30+ is required it should protect from both types of UV rays. It should be used on all exposed skin every day, even in winter time. Ideally it should be put 20 minutes before being exposed to the sun and reapplied every two hours even on cloudy days and after swimming or sweating. It is recommended to use one ounce of sunscreen every time (about the size of a ping pong ball).
As seen before UV radiation can be harmful to our eyes. Cataracts happen when proteins in our eye lens get damaged. The proteins start to collect pigments that cloud the vision. Sunglasses that protect eyes from UV rays reduce the risk of cataracts.
Watch the UV index
This index predicts the risk of UV overexposure using a scale that ranges from 0 (minimal risk) to 11+ (very high risk). The forecast considers latitude, elevation, weather conditions, time of year and the ozone levels. The index value for the day helps us take appropriate precautions.
Getting outside and enjoying some well-deserved fun in the sun is one of the best parts of summer. Even if you are looking forward a summer tan, it is not necessary to stay under the sun too long, since melanin (the pigment responsible for tanning) has a cut-off point which is usually 2-3 hours. As usual it is all about care, moderation and health strategy.
Enjoy the rest of your summer.
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