3 min|Dr. Jordan Dutton

Understanding UV Light and Its Effects On Your Health

Beauty, Health

UV Radiation and You

As the sun rises, the rain lifts and the clouds fade (fingers crossed), Vancouver changes! For most of us, it’s the better half of the year. More people enjoy the outdoors, beaches become full and we tend to soak up as much sun as we possibly can while it lasts. Despite all the beauty and warmth of the sun, with all good, come its evils. Melanoma, a malignant and aggressive skin cancer, is one of those. There is no question that repeated sun exposure and sunburns are associated with skin cancer and premature aging.

What is UV light?

Different types of UV light will affect your skin differently depending on the wavelength. UVA is responsible for phototoxicity (with certain medications), photo-aging, immunosuppression and skin cancers. It accounts for 95% of the radiation found in artificial tanning beds and penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB. Even-so, UVB is the primary reason we get sunburnt. This can also cause skin cancers and immunosuppression.

With the earth’s decreasing ozone levels, more UVB exposure has led to an increase in squamous and basal cell skin cancers, as well as an increase in melanomas. Reflective surfaces will also increase the effects of UV radiation (sand, snow, water, even cement) and lead to that unexpected sunburn we are sometimes left with. No sunscreen will completely protect you from the sun and should be considered just a partner in your protection against the sun, not the primary means.

Having interned at a dermatologists office during my medical education in Arizona, I often saw patients in their 30’s-40’s who claimed they’d stayed out of the sun for years, but tanned a lot as teenagers and early 20 something’s. The Doctor's response, as he was removing large skin cancers from their face, was that UV radiation and past sunburns often catch up with us in our later years, so be on guard. There is a fine line between enough vitamin D and frying your skin.

Everyone should take a Vitamin D supplement, especially in Vancouver (1000-2000IU daily is a safe maintenance dose and 400IU daily for young kids). Now that you know all of this, take an umbrella to the beach this summer, enter the sun intermittently but don’t stay exposed for long stretches of time. Wear light clothing over your swimsuit to minimize radiation and add a fancy wide brimmed hat. You’ll look awesome on the beach and as you age.

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