UV radiation

Factors That Create A Higher Risk Of Sunburn

When going on vacation, or even just going outdoors for that matter, most people only worry about the direct impact the sun can have on hot summer days. It is rare that someone would worry, for example, in the winter or if there are clouds in the sky. The reality is, however, that the suns rays can be more detrimental to your skin when combined with certain factors.

Sometimes lathering on sunscreen just isn’t enough to fully protect yourself from the suns harmful UV rays when combined with these factors. The first step in getting the optimal protection is to understand how these things can magnify the impact of the suns rays. Once you understand this you can take the necessary measures to further protect yourself when in these specific environments.

senior man smoking cigar and sunbathing

In this article, we outline some factors that can amplify the suns UV rays. Some of these are obvious but others not so much. We also provide tips on how to optimally protect yourself in these situation.

Sand at the beach

Going to the beach to soak up the sun is nothing new in Western culture. Everyone knows that if you’re going to be sitting in the sun all day you should protect yourself from getting sun burned, but at the same time, many people go to the beach hoping to get a nice golden tan and misjudge the power of the sun.

When at the beach, beware that the suns rays will have a stronger effect than normal on your skin due to the fact that sand reflects about 20% of the suns UV rays. So you aren’t just getting hit by direct UV rays, you are also getting an additional 20% of exposure from the surrounding sands reflection. This means that even if you are sitting in the shade at the beach, you will still be getting hit by UV rays from the reflection and should protect yourself accordingly.

Reflection from water

Similar to sand at the beach, water also reflects the suns harmful UV rays. According to the World Health Organization, water only reflects about 10% of the suns UV rays. Although it doesn’t reflect as much as sand, this is still a significant amount of additional UV radiation that your body will be exposed to when you are in or near water.

beautiful sunset above the sea

When going inside the water, you will not only be hit by direct UV rays, but also by rays reflecting from the surface of the water. On top of this, any sunscreen that you put on will be reduced even if it claims to be waterproof so make sure to reapply as soon as you exit the water and dry off.

Thinning of the ozone layer

The ozone layer is like a massive invisible bubble protecting our planet from harmful external forces like powerful UV rays. It absorbs 100% of UVC rays, the most dangerous of the UV spectrum, and reflects a large amount of UVA and UVB rays as well. Unfortunately, due to pollution that we have caused on this planet, there are some areas of the world which are losing a significant portion of the ozone protection.

The most popular example of this is in Australia, where the ozone layer has depleted approximately 9% since 1960. To add to this, the ozone above the Antarctic is significantly thinned during spring time causing what is known as the ozone hole, which passes over parts of Australia. This significant depletion of ozone allows more UV radiation to hit the earth and it’s inhabitants, making Australia the skin cancer capital of the world.

Reflection from snow

One of the last places you would expect to get sun burned is on a cold winter day. Well, if you plan on spending lots of time outdoors playing in the snow you better take a second look. Snow is known to reflect up to 80% of the suns UV rays, giving you almost double the exposure you would normally face.

Sun reflecting on snow surface

Luckily, with the bitter cold of winter, it is unlikely that you will be walking around with much exposed skin that can get burnt. The most common places people get burned is on their face which is often now covered when playing in the snow. Just be sure to cover up as much of your skin as possible and put sunscreen on any exposed skin to minimize the damage that can come from these extra UV rays.

Cloudy days

Another place that people don’t expect to get sunburned, more so than in the snow, is on a cloudy day. Most people think that the clouds will either reflect or absorb the suns UV rays making it very unlikely to catch a tan or a sun burn, and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, clouds only reflect approximately 20% of the suns UV rays, allowing the other 80% to pass through and unsuspectingly damage your skin. Don’t be fooled on an over cast day, be sure to protect yourself in the same way that you would on a sunny day if you will be spending a lot of time outdoors.

High altitude

Although it may feel colder at higher altitudes, making you think that the suns rays aren’t hitting you with the same intensity that they would if you were hanging out at the beach, they are actually much stronger. According to WHO, UV levels actually increase with altitude, at an approximate rate of 10% for every 1000 meters in altitude.

Happy man with hands up on the top of the world above clouds

The reason for this is that the higher you go, the less atmosphere there is to absorb UV radiation. So being high up on a mountain top is much more detrimental to your skin than hanging out at sea level by a beach if you don’t take the necessary precautions.


Dangers Of UV Radiation Exposure

Everyone knows that spending too much time in the sun can be quite harmful to our bodies. Even with this knowledge, people all across Canada still flock to beaches all summer long to bathe in the sun throughout the short summer months in hopes of getting a  perfect golden tan.

Before you decide to do this, make sure that you understand just how dangerous extended exposure to UV rays are to your body. Some of the effects are temporary, but the more severe ones are long lasting and can even be life threatening. UV rays can have the following negative impacts on our bodies:

  • Sunburning
  • Premature skin aging
  • Weakening of your immune system
  • Development of skin cancer

sun dangers

Be prepared so that you can take the necessary precautions to enjoy the sunshine in a safe manner and minimize your risk of damaging your body.

Painful Sunburns

Anyone who has spent too much time in the sun without sunscreen on knows all too well how much it sucks to get a sun burn. Depending on how severe the sunburn is, you can experience symptoms such as your skin turning red, varying degrees of pain, peeling skin, itchy skin, fever, chills and several other symptoms. But what is actually happening on a biological level for your skin to burn?

As your skin is exposed to high levels of UV radiation, superficial blood vessels in the dermis dilate causing increased blood flow in the skin, which results in your skin turning red. The harmful UV rays are also damaging RNA in your skin cells and causing genetic mutations in your skin, which in the long term can become very dangerous.

Premature Skin Aging

Unlike sunburning, premature aging of the skin occurs after repeated exposure to the suns harmful UV rays. As you repeatedly expose your skin to the sun, the dermis begins undergoing structural changes while trying to adapt to the powerful radiation.

premature aging

Some of the signs that your skin is prematurely aging include:

  • dry skin
  • wrinkled skin
  • loss of skin elasticity
  • mottled skin appearance

Weakening of the Immune System

Recent research has shown that excessive exposure to UV rays can diminish the activity of certain cells that are responsible for triggering an immune system response. This in turn can make it difficult for the body to heal certain infections and, even worse, can stop tumor rejection making it more likely for someone with high exposure to UV rays to get skin cancer.

Development of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer, which is the most prevalent form of cancer on earth, can come in several different forms. Some of these skin cancers are a result of chronic exposure to UV rays while others are a result of periodic intense exposure for people that have unacclimatized skin.

skin cancer

The harmful UV rays damage DNA cells causing mutations for the next generation of skin growth. On top of this, the immune system suppression discussed above makes it difficult for the body to fight off any harmful mutated cells.

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