Sunlight or Sun-BITE

by Winnie Wang on February 18, 2014

Who doesn’t like going to the beach or just standing under the warm sunlight? Although a small amount of UV radiation from the sun is essential for producing vitamin D in the body, it can also harm the body. It is extremely harmful for young children because it damages the body while it is still growing and while many systems are still developing.


bright sunlight

What is UV radiation? It is part of the electromagnetic spectrum emitted by the sun. There are three different wavelengths that come from UV radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC. The main contributions to skin cancer are UVA and UVB. UVC has wavelengths of less than 290nm and it is the shortest of the three. Because it is so short, it never reaches the earth’s surface. UVA is the longest wavelength and is not absorbed by the ozone layer. It is also a major cause of skin aging and wrinkling. Even though UVB may be higher in intensity and in harmfulness than UVA, humans are not exposed to them as often. Some people may think that when you don’t see the sun, there is no UV radiation. But that is not true! UVA can go through glass and clouds; it reaches the skin even on cloudy days and when the sun is not visible. UVB is the most harmful of the three and it is strong enough to damage cellular DNA. Luckily, most of it is absorbed by the ozone layer, but because of the current depletion rate, more of it is reaching earth and creating an impact on human health.

Skin cancer is the most common disease from UV radiation. There are many new cases of skin cancer in the US and one in five Americans develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Besides skin cancer, UV exposure can cause inflammations of the eye and cataracts. Like mentioned earlier, wrinkles and premature aging also result from exposure to the sun; the radiation cause changes in the tissue and blood vessels. Another major health effect is weakening of the immune system. The skin is often the first set of defense against invaders to the body and UV radiation can reduce the skin’s ability to protect us.

There can also be beneficial effects of UV radiation. The light from the sun can nevertheless give you a sense of comfort and warmth; it can also help blood circulate better. A small amount of sun exposure, 5-15 minutes a few times per week, is already sufficient enough for the production of vitamin D. Although it is the cause of many health conditions, sun exposure can also treat some other conditions. An example of this is rickets. Rickets causes a child’s bones to soften because of the lack of calcium and vitamin D. The sun exposure helps with the production of more vitamin D and calcium to strengthen the child’s body. Another great benefit to sun exposure is its ability to increase levels of a natural antidepressant in the brain. Research has shown that symptoms of difficulty concentrating, moodiness and low energy develop in people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) more during the winter months, when there is less sunlight. Not only for people with SAD, but sunlight also affects the serotonin levels in healthy individuals as well.


ways to protect yourself while enjoying the sun

There are definitely ways to prevent the development of skin cancer from excessive exposure of UV radiation. Experts believe that 80% of skin cancer can be avoided. A common misconception that people have is that darker skinned individuals are less likely to get skin cancer. But actually, skin cancer does occur and sometimes discovered at an even more dangerous stage. Shade is extremely helpful if you’re outdoors for an extended period of time. A common saying is “Short shadow, seek shade!” Tightly woven and loose fitting clothing can often provide additional protection as well. However, the most beneficial is sunscreen. Most sunscreens are protective against UVB but not a lot of them are protective against UVA. Having a high SPF only prevents sunburns, which are caused by UVB. To get the full protection, make sure you buy sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection! People enjoy the sun and we can take easy steps to prevent ourselves from getting harmed by this wonderful creation.



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