The incidence of skin cancers has been increasing worldwide over the past decades in an alarming rate. One of the reasons is the thinning ozone sphere, causing overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. On the other hand, bad outdoor habits that are common nowadays help the increasing danger for melanoma development. Both non-melanoma skin cancer and melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – could be highly prevented by avoiding sun-derived UV radiation.
What is UV radiation?
UV radiation is a type of light that is part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is emitted by the sun. There are three types of UV rays, namely UVA, UVB, and UVC, classified by their wavelengths. UVC has the shortest wavelength and it is completely absorbed by the ozone layer, so it doesn`t reach the earth. UVA and UVB rays have longer wavelengths and are able to penetrate the atmosphere.
UV rays are well known to be mutagenic for the DNA resulting in transformed cells and uncontrolled cell growth. Particularly, UVA overexposure plays important role in premature skin aging while UVB is mainly responsible for sunburn, eye damage, skin cancer and harmful effects on the immune system.
Sun is not the only source of these harmful UV rays. Many people believe that tanning beds are harmless alternatives to outdoors. This is not true! In fact, they give off both UVA and UVB rays, but the mixture of these two is different from the rays in the sunlight. More importantly, the intensity of the UV in these machines can be even ten times greater than UV rays on the midday sun.
How do you protect yourself from UV rays?
The good news is that, you can still enjoy a beautiful sunny day safely just by following these simple precautions adopted from the Australian SunSmart® campaign. If you are being on the sun remember the Slip! Slop! Slap! Seek! Slide!® catchphrases!
Slip on clothing!
Clothing is our first line of defense against harmful UV rays.
Slop on sunscreen!
Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen (that protects against both UVA and UVB) with at least SPF– or Sun Protection Factor – 30 before going outside and re-apply every two hours, especially after swimming or other outdoor activities.
Slap on a hat!
Hats are not only fashionable but they also provide good sun protection by creating shade around the face. For an even better protection of your ears and the neck choose wide brim hats.
This is especially important between 10 am and 4 pm when the UV rays are the strongest. If you need relief from the sun and want to reduce the risk of sun damage, seek shade under an umbrella or a tree. You may want to check the UVI, or UV Index of your area, which is reflecting the levels of UV rays on a given day. Alternatively, you can also apply this simple shadow test: if your shadow is shorter than you, the UV rays are the strongest.
Slide on sunglasses!
UV radiation to eyes can be just as dangerous as to the skin. To best protect your eyes wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays.
Protect children on the sun!
As babies and children have more delicate, thinner skin than adults, their risk to get sunburn is even higher. Not to mention that they tend to spend more time outdoors! If your children`s skin burns easily, pay attention to cover them up and use sunscreen. Babies under 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight and protected from the sun with protective hats and clothing. You can find more tips about protecting children on the sun here.
Check your skin regularly!
Early detection of suspicious skin spots could save your life! Examine your skin from head to toe every month and get a professional exam of your skin every year! Look at these pages to learn more about skin cancer risks and melanoma warning signs.
Of course, not only UV rays are responsible for development of skin cancer or melanoma. If you would like to learn more about it, go to “It’s all in the genes” post, which explains how genes are involved in melanoma progression.
For more information about preventing, detecting skin cancer, check out these sources:
Skin cancer prevention and information websites (in English and other languages)
UV Index reporting websites (in English and other languages)
UV Index of Norway (in Norwegian and English)
Am I at risk of sunburn? (in English)
Protection tips against UV rays (in German)
Teaching materials about sun protection are available for download:
From the SunSmart campaign (in English)
From the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (in German)
From the Dutch Cancer Society (in Dutch)
From the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority (in Swedish)
From the Norwegian Cancer Society (in Norwegian)
From the Swiss League for Cancer Research (in French)
– Written by: Renata Varaljai (ESR15) and Sonia Leonardelli (ESR14)