The Effects of the Sun on Our Skin - Beware of the Sun!

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

You base your activities for the day, according to its temperature. It influences the clothes that you wear. A warm, sunny day brings a smile to your face. Its warmth and rays can relieve some physical discomfort to those persons with asthma, arthritis and certain skin diseases. It casts a bronze or golden brown shade to your skin, which symbolizes attractiveness and youth to your world.

So, why the warning, beware of the sun? Lurking behind its warmth, lies damaging and sometimes deadly rays. Understanding what type of rays are shinning on you and how they are affecting your skin, as well as preventing their damaging effects can help you enjoy the sun to its fullest.

We are able to look into the sky and see the sun emitting beautiful rays. The sun also sends out ultraviolet rays that are invisible. There are three categories of rays: UVC, UVB and UVA. UVC radiation is almost completely absorbed by the ozone layer. Therefore, it does not affect the skin. UVB radiation affects the epidermis (the outer layer of skin). UVB rays are primarily responsible for sunburns. The rays are most intense and brightest between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. UVA radiation penetrates deeper into the skin causing more effective damage. UVA an UVB rays are the cause of wrinkles, skin disorders and cancer.

The amount of exposure to UV radiation that reaches the skin in influenced by factors, such as time of the day, season, conditions of the earth's atmosphere and proximity to the equator.

There are many effects of the sun on our skin:
  • Acute sunburn reaction
  • Tanning
  • Aging
  • Cancer
  • Allergies
  • Diseases
The deadliest result of over exposure to the sun is cancer.
The three main types of skin cancer are Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Melanoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma
  • Usually occurs in persons of light hair and fair complexions
  • Small, shiny, fleshy nodule appearance on exposed parts of the body
  • Cell grows slowly
  • High cure rate when treated promptly
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • Typically develops on the face, ears, lips and mouth of fair-skinned persons
  • Red, scaly, plate-like patch appearance
  • Able to spread to other parts of the body
  • Curable when detected early
  • Most dangerous form of skin cancer
  • Appearance is dark brown or black mole-like lesion with irregular edges
  • Growths may turn red, blue or white
  • Commonly found on upper back, chest and lower legs of women

Your family history, physical characteristics and environment are some factors out of your control that contribute to your risk of skin cancer. You have a greater risk of developing skin cancer, if close relatives have had skin cancer. You have a greater risk of developing skin cancer, if you are fair-skinned with light blue or green eyes. Living in higher altitudes, closer to the equator and in areas of dry sunny days puts you at a higher risk of sun exposure, sunburn and skin cancer.

Over exposure to the sun's ultraviolet radiation can damage skin and eyes. Within the United States, the National Weather Service has developed the UV index that indicates the likely level of exposure to UV rays for a particular city on a given day. The scale is 0 to 10+, where 0 is a minimal likely level of exposure to UV rays and 10+ is very high. With this information we can take more sun safety precautions on days of higher exposure.

Remember to follow these tips when exposed to the sun:
  • Limit your time in the sun. Avoid the direct sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Limit your time in the sun year round. UV can penetrate clouds and reflects back at you in the snow.
  • Wear clothing that covers the most skin: long sleeved shirts with collars, long pants, swim suits, socks and shoes.
  • Choose tightly knit fabrics.
  • Choose darker color fabrics because they absorb UV better than light colors.
  • Wear heavier weighted fabrics block more UV rays.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and UV blocking sun glasses.
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater. The higher the number, the longer the protection.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
  • Apply sunscreen liberally to all exposed areas 30 minutes before going out into the sun.

The sun is our warmth, light, environment and our very existence. Although it is a friend to us, it can inadvertently be an enemy to our skin. By reducing your sun exposure, you can prevent damage to your skin. You and your family should make yourselves aware of the risks of too much sun and adopt safety sun practices to prevent serious health problems.