UV Index: exposure, protection and consequences

Hello, Summer! Oh, how we have missed you!

By now, you are likely getting ready to pack your bags and head out to enjoy some much-needed rest and relaxation. Perhaps you have some great summer excursions planned, or you’re simply going to the beaches of the Shores & Islands Ohio to lounge and enjoy the sun. 

Whatever you’re doing this summer, it likely involves time outdoors. Your body can convert sunlight into vitamin D, which has many health benefits. While the sun can provide some vitamin D and feel great on your skin, too much sun can cause long-lasting damage. Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer.

Too much time in the sun can also result in wrinkles and sunburns, and over time, skin cancer. However, this doesn’t mean you have to skip your beach trip or spend your summer indoors. Instead, you simply need to practice how to be sun-smart to protect your skin.

What is UV Index and how does it affect you?

Ultraviolet radiation is the invisible killer provided by the sun. The reason it can be deadly because you’re unable to feel or see the damage until after its done. UV radiation can even be high on cool or overcast days. Even on a cloudy day, you have to practice sun-safe measures to prevent radiation damage to your skin. 

The UV index scale is a great way to tell you how fast sunburn can occur if you aren’t applying the proper protection. Here’s how to understand the scale:

0-2: Low

When the reading is two or lower, most people have a limited risk of sunburn. It is suggested that you wear sunglasses, use sunscreen, and take note of bright surfaces such as water and sand, which can reflect UV rays. At this low level, it takes roughly 60 minutes to burn.

3-5: Moderate

At this level, there is a moderate level of risk of sunburn for most people. Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun rays are at their strongest, you need to find some shade. Wear a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and protective clothing. It can take roughly 30 to 45 minutes to burn at this level.

6-7: High

A UV index of 6 or 7 will put you at high risk. Follow the same steps from the moderate level; it takes roughly 15 to 25 minutes to burn.

8-10: Very high

This rating puts you at a high risk of harm from the sun. Take extra precautions for your eyes and skin because damage can occur within 15 minutes. 

11 or more: Extreme

At this level, you’re at serious risk for sunburn. Damage can occur within less than 10 minutes. It’s best to avoid any sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

How to take care of yourself in the sun

“Stay out of the sun as best you can, especially when the UV index is high,” said Patrick Tupa, D.O., Emergency Medicine, Firelands Regional Medical Center. “If you have a sunburn with blisters over a large surface of your body, seek medical attention.” 

When you are out in the sun and the UV index is more than 3, there are some things you will need to do to keep yourself safe and protect your skin.

  • When you’re out in the sun, make sure you cover up. Try wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. Darker colors provide more protection against the sun’s rays than lighter colors.
  • Protect your eyes with a pair of sunglasses that have UV protection to shield your eyes from the sun and reduce the risk of cataracts. Sunglasses also protect the fragile skin around your eyes and prevent sagging and wrinkles.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to keep the sun off your scalp, face, neck and ears.
  • Seek shade when you’re outdoor and the sun is at its most intense. Protect yourself on a beach or at a pool in the shade of an umbrella.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above that is water- resistant to all exposed areas of skin before you head outdoors, even on cloudy days. 

The bottom line

The sun’s effect on your skin can result in cancer, sagging, wrinkling, and even cataracts in your eyes. Make sure you follow the steps above to stay safe when you’re out in the sun.