July’s clear skies and sunny days make it the perfect time for UV Safety Month! While most people understand that protecting your skin from sun damage is important, the harmful effects of UV light are still largely misunderstood. As part of our public awareness initiative, Skin and Beauty Center breaks down everything you need to know below!
What is UV Light?
Light exists on a spectrum with only a small portion of it visible to humans. Ultraviolet, or UV, light has shorter wavelengths than can be detected by our eyes, though it is visible to dogs, cats, and other animals. About 10 percent of sunlight is ultraviolet and only one-third of that light actually reaches the surface of the Earth through the planet’s atmosphere.
Why is UV Light Harmful?
Sunburns are actually a form of radiation burn caused by ultraviolet light. Though the redness and irritation caused by sunburns are often treated as a mild annoyance, the damage caused by UV light can be extensive and life-threatening in some cases.
Sun damage caused by UV light penetrates deep below the surface, impacting your skin at the cellular level. Repeated sunburns can damage DNA in your skin cells. This is what causes cancerous cells to develop. In the early stages of skin cancer, they may look like new freckles, moles, or hyperpigmentation. If you notice any skin changes, it is important to get a skin exam by a board-certified dermatologist to eliminate any cause for concern.
When is a Sunburn Considered Severe?
Certain types of skin are more susceptible to sunburns than others. People with fair skin, eyes, and hair may burn more easily than those with deeper complexions. However, even those with deep skin tones can experience sunburns, even if the signs are less apparent. This can be especially dangerous as the signs of a sunburn may not be apparent until hours later at which point the damage may be extensive.
Severe sunburns can lead to:
- Blistering and severe swelling
- Skin infections
- Pain including headaches and eye pain
- Vision disturbances caused by sun damage to the eyes
While most mild to moderate sunburns can be treated at home, severe sunburns require medical attention. If you have a sunburn and experience the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:
- High fever (>103 F) with vomiting
- Confusion, dizziness, or fainting
- Blisters that are filled with pus or streaky
The best way to prevent sunburn is through preventative measures like wearing sunscreen and UV blocking clothing and limiting exposure. Most weather apps now also include information on the UV index and extreme UV warnings. Paying attention to these warnings can help minimize your risks of severe sun damage.