Summer, sun, sunburn – how dangerous are UV rays?

Many enjoy the beautiful weather in the warm season, go for a walk in the park or swim. The sunlight lifts our spirits and is good for us – especially our vitamin D balance, which is often neglected in winter. Sun rays are important, but their dangers should not be underestimated either. Probably all of us have had sunburn at some point. This is not only annoying, but with every intensive sunbathing, the risk of developing skin cancer increases. Sunscreens protect against sunburn, but not against skin cancer, and carry some risks. If you follow certain rules, you can enjoy the sunlight with a clear conscience even in summer. What do we have to pay attention to?

Especially in the warm season we spend a lot of time outside and enjoy a swim in the sun on the meadow, in the park, in the swimming pool, by the lake or on vacation on the beach. Sunlight increases activity, lifts your spirits and is vital for all of us. More and more people are suffering from a lack of vitamin D, especially after the long winter months and when they spend a lot of time in their home or office. Those who spend a lot of time in the fresh air and regularly “fill up” with sunlight can prevent such a deficiency.

But many are not aware of how important our largest organ, the skin, is to us. We love to forget to protect ourselves properly and not to overdo it with sunbathing. After just 20 minutes, the time has come for many: The skin shows the first reddening and may already start to itch. Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily just end with an unpleasant sunburn – every time you expose your skin to the sun, the risk of developing skin cancer increases. Particularly people who are exposed to the sun’s rays frequently between the ages of zero and six and who are often sunburned are at risk.

The ozone layer 15 to 50 kilometers above the earth’s surface absorbs many UV rays from the sun and is an important protection for life on earth. However, the use of certain gases in industry and technology has resulted in a thinning of the ozone layer in recent decades. It decreased most at the poles, where the so-called “ozone hole” increased by up to 40 percent. The use of halogen-containing hydrocarbon gases (“CFCs”), which destroy the ozone layer, was then severely restricted. But these gases are still used. According to scientists, it will take decades for the ozone layer to recover. It will probably never be as thick as it was in the 1970s.

The danger of the invisible rays

Particular care is required on the water – here the light is reflected from the surface of the water.

Domaris | pixelio

UV radiation is more intense, especially in summer. We can neither see nor feel these rays – this is exactly what makes them dangerous, because we often only notice whether we have been in the sun for too long when it is already too late. Even when the sky is overcast and we are definitely not getting direct sun, the UV rays hit our skin. In moderation, they are not yet dangerous and even important for us, but not when we are intensely exposed to them. There are three different types of UV rays: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C. The first two can cause lasting damage to the skin, the UV-C rays do not even reach the surface of the earth, but are absorbed by the uppermost layers of air in the earth’s atmosphere.

In addition to UV-A rays, the sun irradiates us primarily with UV-B rays. These do not work in the deeper layers of the skin, like UV-A rays, but they are also not harmless. On the one hand, they ensure that the important vitamin D is activated, which protects our skin even from strong sunlight. On the other hand, they cause the dreaded sunburn if we spend too long in the sun. There is a widespread belief that it would help to quickly tan in the solarium before going on holiday. However, this is wrong. In the solarium, we expose ourselves to UV-A rays that work in the deeper layers of the skin. These have longer waves, penetrate further into the skin and cause premature aging of the skin and changes in the genetic make-up. UV-A radiation in particular is dangerous and can lead to skin cancer.

What happens when I get sunburned?

When sunburned, the skin is reddened, itchy and painful to the touch.

William Veder | pixelio

In moderation, sunlight and UV-B radiation are actually healthy and important for us. But what happens to our skin when we get sunburned? First of all, our skin uses pigments to protect itself from harmful sun rays. The more skin pigments there are, the darker the skin – and the better it is protected from sunlight.

The time that elapses before sunburn occurs in direct sunlight without sun protection is called self-protection time. It differs depending on the skin type – while very light-skinned people get sunburn quickly, dark-skinned people are naturally well protected from the sun’s rays and very dark skin types almost never get sunburn. The full signs of sunburn generally won’t become apparent until six to 24 hours after sunbathing. If it remains slightly red, you have suffered a first-degree burn. If itching occurs, if there is pain or even swelling, it is usually a second-degree burn – blistering can result.

Prevention is the decisive measure – and that means first and foremost not to expose yourself to the intense rays of the sun and prefer to enjoy the direct sun for a longer period of time in the early morning and later evening hours. If you are exposed to the sun and use a sunscreen, it is advisable to apply lotion 30 minutes before exposure to the sun and to use an appropriate sun protection factor depending on your skin type. This sun protection factor (abbreviated: SPF) indicates how many UV-B rays are kept out and do not penetrate the skin – sunscreens therefore only hold back some of the UV rays. The number tells you how much longer you can expose yourself to the sun without getting sunburn than you would without the cream. It differs from skin type to skin type, how high the factor should be (see also table below). But caution is advised here: even sunscreen is not harmless and can in no way protect against intense sunlight.

Sunscreens – Protection or Risk?

Sunscreen was originally designed to protect people who have to work outdoors all day. It protects against UV-B radiation, which is responsible for sunburn, but only to a limited extent against the dangerous UV-A rays.

Sunscreens are available in various strengths as cream, spray or gel in supermarkets, drug stores and health food stores. They were originally developed to provide better protection from sunlight, especially those people who had to spend a lot of time outdoors. In the meantime, sunscreen is mainly used to achieve a supposedly “healthy tan” and to be able to extend the time of sunbathing. If we expose ourselves to the sun for a longer period of time, more skin pigments are formed for protection – and we get tanned. But can you really talk about a healthy tan?

Although sun creams protect against sunburn to a certain extent, they also do not provide sufficient protection against dangerous UV rays. Because: On the one hand, they only block some of the UV-B rays, and on the other hand, conventional products do not provide protection the cancer-causing UV-A rays that penetrate deeper into the skin. In the meantime, more and more sun creams are coming onto the market that also offer a certain UV-A protection. So far, however, there are no standard values ​​for an optimal UV-A filter, so that this protection is not at all meaningful for many products. Because the products usually do not indicate how high and effective the UV-A protection really is. The level of the sun protection factor (SPF) relates exclusively to protection against UV-B rays. But according to many studies, UV-A rays are far more dangerous and pose a greater risk of skin cancer than UV-B rays, which are responsible for sunburn. Ever since sunscreens began to hit the market, the rate of skin cancer has even increased.

Another problem is that sunscreens lower the levels of vitamin D in our body by blocking the UV-B rays. A vitamin D deficiency is harmful in the long run and is even held responsible for some types of cancer. With long periods of sunshine, the risk of damaging the genetic material in the cells and developing skin cancer is at least as great if you use sunscreen. Many people believe that they can stay in the sun for an especially long time if they apply regular lotion. The sun cream then prevents the annoying sunburn and conveys a false sense of security.

Harmful ingredients

DISPLAY

Conventional sun creams work chemically and contain many questionable to harmful ingredients that trigger allergies, act similarly to hormones or are even suspected of being carcinogenic.

Jörg Brinckheger / pixelio.de

On the other hand, most of the sunscreens that are commercially available contain harmful to toxic ingredients, some of which are even suspected of being carcinogenic. Furthermore, so-called “nanoparticles” are contained in conventional sunscreens, which pose significant health risks and whose effects on the body have not really been researched yet. These are tiny particles that can penetrate cells, tissues and organs particularly easily and are therefore used, for example, in creams as a means of transport so that active ingredients can more easily get into the skin. So applying sunscreen like this regularly or even in excess is anything but healthy.

Only a few products from natural cosmetics do without particularly questionable ingredients. Conventional sunscreens work by means of chemical filters: their ingredients, which in many cases are irritating to the skin and trigger allergies or even act similar to hormones in the body, penetrate the skin layer to convert UV rays into thermal energy. Organic sun creams, on the other hand, have a physical effect: They contain mineral UV filters that form a protective layer on the skin and reflect the dangerous rays. In addition, they are mostly free of nanoparticles. Since July 2013, such controversial nanoparticles in care products and cosmetic articles have to be labeled with the addition “nano” on the packaging for the ingredients. Eco or organic sunscreens are therefore far more skin-friendly and healthier than conventional sun creams, but have the disadvantage that they are less absorbed by the skin and therefore often leave a white layer. In general, sun creams should only be used with caution and in moderation as protection if necessary – but not to bathe in the sun with a “clear conscience”.

The best protection against UV rays

Protection from intense sun rays: Those who are not in the shade can protect themselves with a hat, sunglasses and long clothing.

Stefan Zerfaß / Pixelio

Sun cream does not provide sufficient protection against intense sunlight, can be harmful to our skin and our health and only partially reduces the risk of skin cancer. In addition, one should not forget that the sun’s rays – especially UV-B rays – are also important for us and prevent a vitamin D deficiency.

In general, however, the skin should not be exposed to direct sunlight for too long. Babies and smaller children should not get direct sun if possible and fair-skinned people should protect themselves well. It is best to stay in a shady place, especially at hot lunchtime. Sunlight has the greatest power between eleven and 3 p.m., so even less light-sensitive people shouldn’t spend too long in the sun at this time. In the morning and evening, however, the sun is further away and shines at a more oblique angle.

Sunglasses with a UV filter also protect the eyes, a sun hat prevents aggressive sun rays from shining directly on the sensitive skin of the head and face. Babies and toddlers in particular should always wear a hat. In intense sunlight, it makes sense to wear long clothes – preferably made of light fabric and in light colors. Caution is advised near and on the water, as the sun’s rays and thus also the UV rays are reflected and the radiation increases significantly.

Particularly good precautions should be taken when on vacation. Because not only water, but also differences in altitude, for example, have to be taken into account. Solar radiation is more intense in the mountains. And the sun is especially dangerous in the hot season, but not only: You can also get badly sunburned on a skiing holiday, as the white snow also reflects the rays.

What to do in case of sunburn

If you have severe sunburns with severe reddening, swelling or blisters with subsequent flaking, you should consult your doctor.

Wikipedia

If you’ve caught sunburn after all, make sure you drink a lot. In the following days, do not expose yourself to the sun and wear long clothes outdoors. A special after-sun lotion can help with slight reddening of the skin. Quark or yoghurt from the refrigerator are also beneficial, and cold compresses and cool showers can provide relief.

A doctor should be consulted in the event of severe pain and blistering. A higher degree of sunburn is not without risk, and in particularly severe cases a stay in hospital may be necessary. If you have a fever, chills, and nausea, it is already sunstroke. Some people experience severe itching and wheals on their skin after sunbathing. You are allergic to the sun, so you need to be extra careful.

By the way: A while ago it was still in fashion to be really brown, now another trend can be observed: Probably due to the dangers of too much exposure to the sun, the “elegant paleness” is slowly becoming popular again. But that doesn’t mean that we should avoid the sun completely – after all, in moderation, it is actually good for us.

Skin types features
Skin type I.
  • mostly blue eyes
  • reddish or light blonde hair
  • very fair skin, often with freckles
  • gets sunburn after 5 to 10 minutes in midsummer
  • does not turn brown
Skin type II
  • mostly gray or blue, sometimes green eyes
  • blonde or light brown (rarely dark brown) hair
  • light skin
  • first redness after 10 to 20 minutes
  • turns moderately brown
Skin type III
  • mostly green or brown, sometimes blue or gray eyes
  • light to dark brown, sometimes blonde or black hair
  • medium skin tone
  • can be in the sun for about 20 to 30 minutes before sunburn occurs
  • turns brown after frequent sunbathing
Skin type IV
  • brown, sometimes green-brown eyes
  • dark hair
  • darker skin even when it is not tanned
  • Skin does not redden until at least 40 minutes
  • gets really brown quickly
Skin type V (dark skin types)
  • dark eyes
  • black hair
  • dark to very dark skin
  • Skin reddened – if at all – after 60 minutes at the earliest
  • hardly gets sunburn

 

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