The Sun Can Actually Kill You: Protect Yourself

The sun is an essential part of life, providing us with warmth and light, but it can also be dangerous to our skin. Skin cancer is on the rise, and exposure to the sun is one of the leading causes. In this article, we will explore how the sun damages the skin, the process behind it, how sunscreen works, and what the numbers on sunscreen mean.

How does the sun do damage to the skin?

The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can penetrate the skin’s outer layer and cause damage to the cells beneath. There are two types of UV radiation that reach the earth’s surface: UVA and UVB.

UVA radiation penetrates deep into the skin and can cause premature aging and wrinkles. It is also associated with skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

UVB radiation is responsible for sunburn and is also a significant cause of skin cancer. It damages the skin’s outer layer and can lead to the development of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, two of the most common types of skin cancer.

What is the process of skin damage caused by the sun?

When UV radiation penetrates the skin, it causes damage to the DNA in skin cells. This damage can lead to mutations that can cause the cells to grow uncontrollably, leading to skin cancer. UV radiation can also damage the skin’s collagen and elastin fibers, causing premature aging, wrinkles, and sagging skin.

How does sunscreen work?

Sunscreen works by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering UV radiation to protect the skin from its harmful effects. The active ingredients in sunscreen form a barrier on the skin that absorbs or reflects UV radiation. There are two main types of active ingredients in sunscreen: chemical and physical.

Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation, converting it into heat, which is then dissipated from the skin. They usually contain one or more of the following ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, homosalate, and octocrylene.

Physical sunscreens, on the other hand, reflect and scatter UV radiation away from the skin. They contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, which sit on the skin’s surface and create a physical barrier that blocks UV radiation from penetrating the skin.

What do the numbers on sunscreen mean?

The numbers on sunscreen bottles indicate the level of protection they provide against UVB radiation. This protection is measured by the sunscreen’s sun protection factor (SPF). The SPF measures the length of time it takes for UVB radiation to cause sunburn on protected skin compared to unprotected skin.

For example, if a person’s skin would typically burn after 10 minutes of exposure to the sun, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 would allow them to spend 300 minutes (10 x 30) in the sun before burning. It’s important to note that SPF only measures protection against UVB radiation and not UVA radiation.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. It should be applied 15 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.

Is skin cancer on the rise?

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and its incidence has been increasing over the past few decades. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 5.4 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year, and over 100,000 cases of melanoma are expected to be diagnosed in 2023.

The rise in skin cancer rates is believed to be due to several factors, including increased sun exposure due to outdoor activities, changes in clothing styles, and a lack of awareness about the dangers of UV radiation. Additionally, the depletion of the earth’s ozone layer, which acts as a natural shield against UV radiation, has increased the amount of UV radiation that reaches the earth’s surface.

The good news is that skin cancer is highly preventable by taking simple measures to protect the skin from UV radiation. Wearing protective clothing, seeking shade, and using broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher are all effective ways to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

The sun can be dangerous to our skin, and exposure to UV radiation is a significant cause of skin cancer. Understanding how the sun damages the skin, the process behind it, and how sunscreen works can help us protect our skin from harm. By taking simple steps to protect our skin from UV radiation, we can reduce the risk of skin cancer and keep our skin looking healthy and youthful.

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