Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and it has been directly linked to ultraviolet radiation exposure. But what is ultraviolet radiation and what do you need to know about it? Read on to learn more.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation. It can be emitted by both natural and man-made sources. The biggest natural source of UV radiation is the sun. Man-made UV radiation is most commonly emitted by tanning beds and welding torches. UV rays are a very low-energy form of radiation. They have more energy than visible light, but less energy than something like X-rays. And there's more than one type, too. Let's review.
UVA Rays - This type of UV radiation has the least energy, but that doesn't mean there aren't any side effects of exposure. UVA rays are primarily responsible for skin cell aging and are linked to long-term skin damage, like wrinkles.
UVB Rays - With slightly more energy than UVA rays, this type of UV radiation can cause more skin damage. Research has shown that UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn and could cause most skin cancers to develop.
UVC Rays - While UVC rays have more energy than both UVA and UVB rays, they're considered the lowest risk factor for skin cancer. This is because UVC rays react with ozone in the atmosphere and don't reach the earth.
The biggest source of UV radiation exposure is the sun. It is the largest natural source of UV rays, after all. So whenever you go outside, you're being exposed to UV radiation. That being said, there are several factors that affect how much UV exposure you're actually receiving. These include the time of day, the season, your distance from the equator, and even your altitude. In addition, clouds can have some effect on UV exposure. Be warned, though! UV rays can still penetrate clouds. As far as man-made UV radiation, the most common source of exposure is tanning beds. So if you're fond of tanning, be aware that you're receiving high exposure to potentially harmful UV rays.
As we discussed above, UV rays can cause skin damage in the form of both premature aging and sunburn. And while these two issues can be serious, the number one consequence of too much UV exposure is skin cancer. UV radiation contributes to the development of multiple types of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Tanning beds have also been directly linked to the development of skin cancer.
Fortunately, it's not hard to protect yourself from UV radiation. While the simplest solution is to stay out of the sun as often as possible, it's not exactly feasible to do that year-round. So when you go outside, the first thing you need to do is make sure you've applied sunscreen with SPF 30+. If you're going to be outside for an extended period of time, it's important to reapply every few hours or so.
In addition, you can protect yourself by covering your skin. Wide-brimmed hats can help protect your scalp, and if the brim is wide enough, it might even protect your shoulders, too! Light-colored clothing with sleeves is also a great option for UV protection. And when in doubt, find a shady spot to hang out in while you're outdoors.
A skin cancer diagnosis is no joke. Having the right knowledge about UV radiation can help you protect yourself from developing skin cancer. If you have questions or want to set up a skin cancer screening, contact SE Dermatology Specialists today.