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July is National Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Month and this presents an opportunity for nurses to educate patients to protect themselves from the harmful effects of UV rays. UV rays not only cause skin damage, but also skin cancer and cataracts. There are three types of UV rays. UVC is absorbed by the ozone layer and does not pose any threat. UVA and UVB radiation, however, have long- and short-term negative effects on the immune system, skin, and vision. The main source of UV rays is sunlight, although they can come from man-made sources such as diagnostic X-rays, tanning beds and booths, and phototherapy. Approximately 90-95% of the UV rays from sunlight is UVA, with the remaining 5-10% being UVB.
Summer is here, which means it’s the perfect time to get more physically active and enjoy being outside. Here are four tips to share with patients to help them avoid damage from UV rays.
1. Avoid overexposure to sunlight.
Avoid being outside for long periods in the sun and heat, especially during the peak hours of strongest UV rays, during the hours of 10 am to 4 pm. Overexposure to sunlight is known as the underlying cause for harmful effects on the skin, eyes, and DNA.
2. Apply broad spectrum protection sunscreen before stepping outside.
A sunscreen with SPF 30 can block out 96% of UV rays, while a sunscreen with SPF 50 can block out 98%. Unfortunately, there is no sunscreen that can provide 100% UV protection. Remember to apply a sunscreen 20 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply after two hours because most sunscreens can last for about two hours on the skin.
3. Wear sunglasses that can filter at least 98% of UVA and UVB rays.
Sunglasses with UV coating, or polycarbonate lenses which have built-in UV coverage, can help prevent UV rays. Photochromic lenses are also a good choice. UV rays can cause a development of cataracts, macular degeneration, and retina damage. It is wise to cover skin with loose-fitting clothing and wear a wide-brimmed hat (3-inch or 4-inch brim all around) when out in the sun.
4. Avoid or limit the use of artificial UV light.
Research has shown the risk of malignant melanoma is much higher in people who use tanning beds. The risk of melanoma increases by 75% when indoor tanning devices are used before the age of 30. Avoid using tanning devices to lower the risk of having melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
Mary Wiske, RN, is a retired community health nurse.