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UV Safety Awareness Month: Health Effects Of Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation

The month of July is observed as Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Month. Initiated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the goal is to spread awareness on the importance or more like the need to protect yourself from the harmful effects of UV rays.

On this Ultraviolet Safety Month, let us take a look at the ways ultraviolet (UV) radiation can affect one's health.

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What Is Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation?

The UV light creates radiation, called UV radiation which is a type of electromagnetic radiation. These invisible rays are part of the energy that comes from the sun and also from man-made sources like tanning beds and welding torches. The emission of UV radiation is extremely damaging to your skin, causing wrinkles, dark spots and other severe health issues [1].

While it may seem like a sunburn is a temporary irritation, it can leave long-lasting damage and increase the risk of different types of skin cancer [2]. Due to the elevation in the levels of ozone layer depletion, the atmosphere's natural protection from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation is limited, exposing us to further health issues [3].

Let us take a look at the health effects of UV radiation.

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1. Skin Cancer

Most skin cancers are a result of exposure to the UV rays in sunlight [4]. Unprotected exposure to UV radiation is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. The types of skin cancer resultant from exposure to UV radiation are:

Melanoma: The most severe form of skin cancer, melanoma accounts for about three per cent of skin cancer cases and causes more than 75 per cent of skin cancer deaths [5]. UV exposure and sunburns are the major risk factors and not all melanomas are exclusively sun-related.

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Nonmelanoma: Non-melanoma skin cancers are less severe in comparison and are of two types, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas [6]. If treated on-time, these are rarely fatal. However, lack of medical attention can cause disfigurement and more serious health problems [7].

Basal cell carcinomas are the most common type of skin cancer tumours, and they usually appear as small, fleshy bumps or nodules on the head and neck. Squamous cell carcinomas are tumours that may appear as nodules or as red, scaly patches and may develop into large masses [8][9].

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2. Cataracts And Eye Problems

Cataracts are a serious eye condition that clouds your vision and finally leads to blindness. It is the formation of a film around the eye lenses that results in the clouding of vision [10]. Studies point out that exposure to UV radiation increases the risk of certain cataracts [11].

Apart from cataracts, exposure to UV radiation can cause damage to your eyes and vision, such as, tissue growth that can block vision (pterygium), skin cancer around the eyes and degeneration of the macula.

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3. Suppresses The Immune System

Overexposure to UV radiation may suppress proper functioning of the body's immune system and thus your skin's natural defences, as the radiation reduces the skin's ability to protect you against infections and some cancers [12][13].

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4. Damages Skin And Causes Premature Ageing

Chronic exposure to UV radiation can cause skin disorders such as actinic keratoses and premature ageing of the skin [14]. Actinic keratoses develop on the body areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands, forearms and neck and causes raised, reddish, rough-textured growths.

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The UV rays cause the skin to become thick, wrinkled, and leathery, resulting in premature ageing, which can be avoided with proper preventive measures such as using sunscreen lotions and avoiding exposure [15].

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Does Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation Have Positive Effects On Your Health?

Some studies assert that limited exposure to small amounts of UV radiation can have some positive effects on one's health and they are as follows:

  • Triggers the production of vitamin D [16]
  • May help improve mood [17]
  • May aid in disinfection and sterilisation
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How To Protect Yourself From Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation?

  • Wear clothes that cover your arms and legs.
  • During the midday hours, avoid going out in the sun.
  • Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) 15 or higher.
  • Avoid indoor tanning, as it can increase the risk of developing melanoma.
  • Wear hats or use umbrellas to protect yourself when going out in the sun.
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On A Final Note…

The risk of UV radiation exposure is something that can be prevented if you take the right measures. Look for sunglasses, glasses or contact lenses that offer 99 to 100 per cent UV protection. Synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester do a good job of blocking UV radiation.

    Story first published: Saturday, July 11, 2020, 17:30 [IST]
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