UV & You
Though not celebrated across the world or as yet endorsed by the United Nations, July was recognised as UV Safety Awareness Month in the United States.
For a country that experiences pretty severe sunshine year round, Barbados should definitely be on board with advocacy for ultraviolet (UV) awareness.
According to Winchester Hospital, “Dark-skinned people, including Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans, naturally produce more of a chemical called melanin, which gives the skin colour [sic] and absorbs the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays. In fact, dark-skinned Blacks have a natural skin protection factor (SPF) of up to 13, and filter twice as much UV radiation as fair-skinned people.”
Just because you feel a more muted effect from the light of the sun doesn’t mean that your skin isn’t being damaged by the harmful rays. Ultraviolet is a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelength from 10 nm to 400 nm, shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays. UV radiation is present in sunlight, and constitutes about 10% of the total electromagnetic radiation output from the sun.
Most people don’t realise, but a sunburn is basically a radiation burn. The sun, after all, is a gigantic nuclear fusion reaction occurring about 150 million kilometres away at such intensity that its light takes just over eight minutes to travel to Earth from its surface.
According to an academic paper published by StatPearls, “An increase in the number of sunburns someone obtains is directly related to an increase in the risk of skin cancer.”
Regardless of how much harm you think the sun is doing to your skin, a bit of block will always be the better choice than no protection at all. For the most part, sunblock protects against UVB rays, though UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin.
So, what does the SPF number mean? Well, it tells you how long the sun’s UV radiation would take to redden your skin when using the product exactly as directed versus the amount of time without any sunscreen. Basically, if it takes you 30 minutes in the sun to get a bit red, then SPF 30 should extend your ability to not get burned by 30 times. But this isn’t really the case.
The Australian Academy of Science explains: “The number of seconds it takes a patch of skin to slightly redden when covered in sunscreen is divided by the number of seconds it takes to slightly redden when there is no sunscreen applied.
Say it took 300 seconds for skin to burn with sunscreen, and ten seconds to burn without it. 300 is divided by 10, which is 30. The SPF is 30.”
If you want to get more than just UVB protection, the good stuff is labelled “broad spectrum”. Keeping your skin protected is important. Excessive exposure to UV can cause wrinkles, leathery skin, liver spots, actinic keratosis (rough, scaly patch on the skin), solar elastosis, eye problems, and, of course, skin cancer.
Cancer.org purports, “UV rays can also cause eye problems. They can cause the cornea (on the front of the eye) to become inflamed or burned. They can also lead to the formation of cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye) and pterygium (tissue growth on the surface of the eye), both of which can impair vision.”
A good pair of UV rated sunglasses, a big floppy hat, and sunblock are all essentials for any time spent in the sun if you’re concerned about preventing any of the previous mentioned maladies. Unfortunately, many sun blocking formulae have been found to contain chemicals that, though they protect us, the Oxybenzone which protects us from UV rays could be harmful to coral reefs.
However, earlier this year, Nature Scientific Reports published a study asserting that Methylene Blue could be a highly effective, broad-spectrum UV irradiation protector that absorbs UVA and UVB, repairs ROS and UV irradiation induced DNA damages, and is safe for coral reefs.
Scientists of all disciplines are constantly working to improve the way we interact with the world we depend on for life.
Keeping the population safe and healthy while promoting the same safety and health for the world around us is of utmost importance for a symbiotic future.