When it comes to skin cancer, a major risk factor is prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Understanding the basics about UV radiation and how it damages your skin is an important first step in learning how to safeguard yourself against skin cancer. The good news is that the danger posed by UV radiation can be greatly reduced by you! Yes, you can still enjoy outdoor activities while limiting your skin cancer risk by taking simple, smart protective measures.
What is UV radiation?
UV radiation is part of the natural energy produced by the sun. On the electromagnetic spectrum, UV light has shorter wavelengths than visible light, so your eyes can’t see UV, but your skin can feel it. Tanning beds also emit UV radiation. Two types of UV light are proven to contribute to the risk for skin cancer: Ultraviolet A (UVA) has a longer wavelength, and is associated with skin aging. Ultraviolet B (UVB) has a shorter wavelength and is associated with skin burning. While UVA and UVB rays differ in how they affect the skin, they both do harm. Unprotected exposure to UVA and UVB damages the DNA in skin cells, producing genetic defects, or mutations, that can lead to skin cancer (as well as premature aging.) These rays can also cause eye damage, including cataracts and eyelid cancers.
What you need to know
A majority of nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSC) and a large percentage of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun.
UV exposure is a powerful attack on the skin, creating damage that can range from premature wrinkles to dangerous skin cancer.
Damage from UV exposure is cumulative and increases your skin cancer risk over time. While your body can repair some of the DNA damage in skin cells, it can’t repair all of it. The unrepaired damage builds up over time and triggers mutations that cause skin cells to multiply rapidly. That can lead to malignant tumors.
The degree of damage depends on the intensity of UV rays and the length of time your skin has been exposed without protection. Location is also a factor. If you live where the sun is strong year-round, your exposure level and risk increases.
You can easily reduce your likelihood of developing skin cancer by taking care to protect yourself against UV radiation.
Despite the risk factors, you can safely, happily enjoy the great outdoors by protecting your skin against UV exposure with broad-spectrum sunscreen and sun-safe clothing, hats and eyewear. You can also consider UV window film for your home and car. Make it a way of life. Protect yourself every day, even when it’s cloudy. Avoid indoor tanning entirely.