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What is The “UV Index,” and Why Should I Care?

I was driving earlier this morning through Ontario on my way to Buffalo for a flight, and the sky was clear and cloudless.  It’s a little on the chilly side up there in the Buffalo area (at least it was at 7am when I was on the road), but on the CBC News I heard an anchor talk about a “very high UV index that will make being outside a little on the burny side.”

What?  I’m going to Dallas right now on a flight, and the UV Index is something that I’ve always just assumed was because we’ve polluted a hole in the ozone, and Nicolas Cage is going to have to deal with aliens like he did in that horrible movie about the sun burning up the Earth.

So what exactly IS the UV Index, how does it affect us, and why should we care?

Well, have you ever been sunburned?  How about melanoma?  Ever had a skin cancer scare?  Sun poisoning?  Blisters?  It’s the ultraviolet rays of the sun’s radiation that make our skin the color of a lobster when we’re out in it.  Did you know that overexposure to the sun can cause cataracts?!

Yeah.  I still love the sun.  That’s probably why I’ll look like a freaking leather catcher’s mitt when I’m 50.

There are three types of ultraviolet radiation:

  • UVA – makes it through the ozone layer
  • UVB – mostly absorbed by the ozone layer; some does reach the Earth’s surface
  • UVC – completely absorbed by the ozone layer and oxygen

Our Environmental Protection Agency has quantified the risk of the amount of UV exposure that we get on a certain day.  From the EPA’s website on sun exposure:

and something a little more helpful, from Wikipedia:

UV Index Description Media Graphic Color Recommended Protection
0–2 No danger to the average person Green Wear sunglasses on bright days; use sunscreen if there is snow on the ground, which reflects UV radiation, or if you have particularly fair skin.
3–5 Little risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure Yellow Wear sunglasses and use sunscreen, cover the body with clothing and a hat, and seek shade around midday when the sun is most intense.
6–7 High risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure Orange Wear sunglasses and use sunscreen having SPF 15 or higher, cover the body with sun protective clothing and a wide-brim hat, and reduce time in the sun from two hours before to three hours after solar noon (roughly 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM during summer in zones that observe daylight saving time).
8–10 Very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure Red Wear sunscreen, a shirt, sunglasses, and a hat. Do not stay out in the sun for too long.
11+ Extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure Violet Take all precautions, including: wear sunglasses and use sunscreen, cover the body with a long-sleeve shirt and trousers, wear a very broad hat, and avoid the sun from two hours before to three hours after solar noon.

I guess that extra four hours a day in the sun over a period of 30 years wasn’t so good for me after all, huh!

When you’re outside this summer, do yourself a favor, wouldja?  Put on some sunscreen!  I’m certainly not one to advocate for staying out of the sun – it’s my favorite source of light after fire!

Thanks, Dermis.net and J Grundy!

Sunbeds Officially Cause Cancer

sunburn1

I’m a bit of a Sun Worshipper, even though most of the time I feel more productive on overcast crappy days.  However, after having a mole checked for Melanoma yesterday (all clear!), it became clear to me that a little extra sunscreen might be in order next time I go camping in July.  Besides the excruciating pain and my poor wife having to listen to me whine about how much pain the blisters caused, it taught me yet another life lesson – my wife is always right.

So, after that bit of rambling – a related story that came out a week or so ago was the fact that sun tanning beds officially can cause cancer.  It kinda makes sense, doesn’t it?  Whether you bake yourself in the sun for hours on end or bake yourself for whatever predetermined amount of time lying in a sun bed, is it really a surprise when you get toasted by the ultraviolet ninja?

sunburn2

Research done by the International Agency for the Research of Cancer (IARC), who makes recommendations to the World Health Organization (WHO), repositioned their findings to state that sunbeds and sunning lamps are “carcinogenic to humans” from their previous statement that they were “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Guess who calls BS on that statement?  The Sunbed Association in the UK, of course!  That’s like politicians in the United States saying that lighting designers can’t practice unless they’re licensed architects because it benefits everybody.  Oh wait…

From the article at the BBC:

Previously, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) assessed sunbeds and sunlamps as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

But it now says their use is definitively “carcinogenic to humans”.

Campaigners believe the move, announced in the journal Lancet Oncology, will increase pressure for tighter industry regulation of sunbed use.

The new assessment puts sunbed use on a par with smoking or exposure to asbestos.

I kind of don’t understand the principal behind sunbeds – is it like the orange ridiculousness that is “tanning lotion?” That stuff always looked so fake to me. I guess we don’t have time to go outside and enjoy the sun anymore. Again, from the article:

[The IARC] made its decision following a review of research which concluded that the risk of melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer – was increased by 75% in people who started using sunbeds regularly before the age of 30.

In addition, several studies have linked sunbed use to a raised risk of melanoma of the eye.

The charity Cancer Research UK warned earlier this year that heavy use of sunbeds was largely responsible for the number of Britons being diagnosed with melanoma topping 10,000 a year for the first time.

In the last 30 years, rates of the cancer have more than quadrupled, from 3.4 cases per 100,000 people in 1977 to 14.7 per 100,000 in 2006.

If you use a sun bed, please use it sensibly! I hate hearing about people getting fatally ill from luxury items.