The sun has a huge impact on our skin’s health. How huge? One in every five North Americans will develop skin cancer as a direct consequence of solar radiation. With our skin cells being constantly bombarded by UV light, it is well worth taking the time to educate yourself about the dangers of sunlight, and how you can keep your skin healthy in the face of this cosmic menace.

Geographical Differences

While the sun’s light shines everywhere on the globe, it does not shine everywhere equally. In addition to giving us weather and seasons, this geographical fact means that you are vulnerable to UV radiation changes based on where you live, or vacation. In general, the more matter that light has to pass through, the less UV it carries when it hits your skin. During the morning and evening, light takes an indirect path through the atmosphere, giving the air more time to diffuse UV. At noon, light makes a beeline for your skin. This same effect applies to latitude: as you get closer to the equator, light takes a more direct path through the atmosphere. Finally, at higher altitudes, there is even less atmosphere for light to pass through, making it imperative to take protective measures against the sun.

Weather and Seasons

Clouds can diminish the amount of UV carried by solar rays, but they do not block it completely. You can still get sunburned on a cloudy day, especially between 12-2pm. Similarly, you should not skip sunscreen during the winter months. No matter how dark or cold it is outside, it’s still a good idea to apply sunscreen if you’re going to spend some time outside!

Cumulative Damage

One of the scariest parts about solar radiation is that it builds up in our skin over time. This means that it is especially important to be vigilant and protect your skin against sun damage. Over a short period of time, UV exposure can add up and cause your skin to appear old and damaged, or even cause skin cancer. Research suggests that the only way to reverse this damage and let your skin heal, is by a rigorous program of minimizing UV exposure — and even then, sun damage can be permanent.

Protective Measures

In order to protect yourself against the sun’s rays, utilize tools like the National Weather Service’s UV index to check how much solar radiation you can expect in your area. Come up with a plan to protect your skin as you move through the day. Protective clothing (like a hat and sunglasses) might be enough if you are working indoors for most of the day, while any significant length of time outside calls for appropriate sunscreen on any areas of your skin that will be exposed- we recommend an SPF factor of 30-40. No matter what kind of sunscreen you wear, you will need to reapply every 2-4 hours, after swimming, and or sweating. Adjusting your schedule can work wonders — moving your daily run from noon to the early morning will dramatically limit your exposure to UV radiation and keep your skin healthy and safe- Always wear sunblock on your runs!

Take UV Seriously

UV damage is a huge factor when it comes to your skin’s health and appearance. What we think of as a “healthy tan” is actually a dire warning from your body — your skin has absorbed a lot of solar radiation and is not happy about it! By taking UV seriously, you can keep your body and skin healthy and youthful for years to come.

Written by: Leah LaVanway