Your editors can remember when growing up 50+ years ago, a suntan was the thing to have in summer and sunbathing to get it was standard. When the sun moved behind a wall, the deck chairs were moved so you were back in it…
Unsurprisingly, that attitude has changed since those days and concern about the skin cancer-causing nature of strong sun is now to the fore.
UV rays — ultraviolet radiation — emitted by the sun are responsible for the change in our skin color. This results in creating a tan, a burn, or skin cancer from overexposure.
There are two types of UV rays to be aware of:
- UVB ray exposure is the cause of the immediate change in skin color. Depending on the degree of exposure, we either get a tan or a burn.
- UVA ray exposure penetrates deep into the skin. These rays are a product not just of direct sun but of all natural light, capable of reaching the skin through glass, clouds and smog. These are the rays that can be found in tanning beds.
A key point that many are still unaware of is that around 80%-90% of UVB rays penetrate through cloud.
Those with light or fair colored skin, hair, or eyes and/or lots of moles or freckles are most at risk of skin damage, but darker skinned people aren’t immune.
When spending more than about 20 minutes outside at a time, a sunhat and sunglasses are a good idea, but definitely put sunscreen on exposed skin.
The effectiveness of some sunscreens on the market has been shown by the Consumer NZ organisation to be poor, see here. Nevertheless, some is better than none!