Besides sunburn, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists several risks from exposure to UV radiation:1
- Skin cancer. Each year, the EPA says, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. than new cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer; less serious types are squamous cell and basal carcinoma.
- Premature aging and other skin damage. UV-related skin disorders include actinic keratosis—raised, reddish, rough textured growths—and accelerated aging, which makes the skin become thick, wrinkled and leathery. According to the EPA, up to 90 percent of the visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun.
- Cataracts and other eye damage. Cataracts are a form of eye damage in which a loss of transparency in the lens of the eye clouds vision. If left untreated, cataracts can lead to blindness. Research has shown that UV radiation increases the likelihood of certain cataracts.
- Immune system suppression. The skin normally mounts a defense against foreign invaders such as cancers and infections. Overexposure to UV radiation can weaken the immune system, reducing the skin’s ability to protect against these invaders.5
Reducing your risk
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are several ways you can help reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer:
- Shade. Be sure you have access to an umbrella, tree or other structure that provides shade if you’re going to be outside on a sunny day.
- Clothing. Long sleeve shirts and long pants offer more protection than short sleeves and short pants. Some clothing lists a certified UV protection factor.
- Hat. A hat with a brim all the way around provides some protection.
- Sunglasses. Those that block both UVA and UVB rays may offer the best protection.
- Sunscreen. The CDC recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher. SPF stands for sun protection factor.6
Talk to your doctor if you notice any unusual growths on your skin or experience sudden problems with your vision.