Sun in Your Eyes? Understanding UV Rays

by Megan

I was outside working in the yard the other day and I got burnt! It wasn’t even a hot sunny day; it was cool and overcast. I guess that’s why mom always told me to wear sunscreen any time I was outside. It made me wonder about the damage that UV rays can cause and what I could do to protect myself. So, I did a little research and here is what I found.

What is UV Radiation? 
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the light spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun. It has wavelengths that are invisible to the naked eye, and they are classified as UVA, UVB, or UVC. Most UVC does not reach the earth; however we need to be cautious of UVA and UVB rays. Both can penetrate the atmosphere and play a key role in conditions such as eye damage (including cataracts), skin cancers, and premature skin aging. UV has been identified as a proven human carcinogen by both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization. 

UVB rays also play a key role in the development of skin cancer. UVB tends to damage the more superficial epidermal layers, making it the main cause of skin reddening and sunburn. UVB intensity varies by time of day, location, and season. The most UVB hits the United States between 10am and 4pm from April to October. But, UVB rays can burn and damage your skin year-round, especially at high altitudes and on reflective surfaces. On snow or ice, up to 80 percent of the rays bounce back so that they hit the skin twice!  UVB rays do not significantly penetrate glass.

Throughout our lifetime, most of us are exposed to large amounts of UVA rays. Even though they are less intense than UVB rays, they are 30 to 50 times more prevalent!  What I was also shocked to learn is that they are present with equal intensity during all daylight hours (not just 10-4) throughout the year, and can even penetrate glass and clouds!According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, recent research has showed that UVA damages skin cells in the basal layer of the epidermis, where most skin cancers occur. Researchers now understand that UVA contributes to and may even initiate skin cancer development. And if you’re still not convinced to avoid UVA rays, don’t forget that they play a major role in skin aging and wrinkling. 

Think tanning is safe? Think again. . .
A common myth is that as long as you don’t burn, you’re safe. Not true. When the skin’s DNA is injured, a tan forms. This skin darkening is an attempt to prevent further DNA damage. However, DNA is not always repaired successfully, and this unrepaired damage can cause mutations that increase the risk for skin cancer. 

Protect yourself from all UV rays while you’re outside and also inside. When outside, stick to shaded areas, especially from 10am-4pm. Also, dress to limit UV exposure.  Bright or dark-colored lustrous clothes reflect more UV radiation than pastels and bleached cottons do. Loose-fitting and tightly woven clothes offer more protection from rays as well. You can even purchase sun-protective clothes with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) that indicates how much UV radiation can penetrate the fabric. And because UVA penetrates glass, it would be a smart idea to add a tinted UV-protective film to your car’s side and rear windows. Areas that typically sustain a lot of sun damage include the sensitive skin on your head, neck and around your eyes. To protect these areas, wear a hat that covers your ears and UV-blocking sunglasses.

What to look for in Sunscreen
Since both UVA and UVB are dangerous, use a sunscreen that gives you coverage for both types of rays. Look for sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher that also has some combination of the following UVA-screening ingredients: stabilized avobenzone, ecamsule (a.k.a. Mexoryl), oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide. If you see a label that says multi-spectrum, broad spectrum, or UVA/UVB protection, this indicates that some UVA protection is provided. However, these terms may not be completely meaningful because there isn’t a consensus on how much protection these phrases indicate. For more information on sunscreen, visit

From now on I am going to listen to mom and wear sunscreen all the time. Did you know how much damage UV rays could really cause? What precautionary measures do you take?


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