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Glorious sunshine. The rays from our nearest star brighten our moods and brighten the landscape. Without that great big ball of fire in the sky, we could not see, there would be no weather and we would miss out on the helpful vitamin D that sunlight helps us generate. The sun gives off electromagnetic radiation. That sounds scary until you break it down. The heat we and the planet feel is infrared (IR) radiation. Light is visible radiation. The part of the sun’s energy that causes tanning is ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
This time of year, the sun’s radiation is the most intense because the sun is highest in the sky. As much as we love the sun, too much of it will lead to pain. Overexposing yourself to excessive UV radiation is not healthy. In large doses, UV causes sunburns. That could be from staying outside too long in direct sun or from spending too many total minutes outside in a single day.
Too much sun exposure over the years dries your skin, prematurely ages it, may lead to skin cancer like melanoma and may increase your risk of cataracts. These are serious health concerns for all ages and all people. All things being equal, the degree of harm UV radiation causes depends on your skin pigmentation. The lighter your complexion, the more at risk you are of contracting melanoma, but ALL skin tones are subject to skin damage. If you notice changes to existing moles or unusual spots developing on your skin, have a dermatologist check them out.
UV radiation impacts are magnified by reflections in sand and snow. Crisp cumulus clouds also reflect radiation. UV radiation is stronger in the mountains than at sea level because there is less atmosphere above to reduce the intensity. Even on cloudy days, UV radiation penetrates clouds to cause tans. Sunscreen is a must, and it has to be reapplied as it washes away by water and sweat.
Take sun safety seriously for yourself and your children. When your shadow is shorter than you are tall, radiation threats are high. Wear light-colored, lightweight clothing, along with a wide-brimmed hat. Use sunglasses that are rated for UV protection. Use sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF). Be sure to follow the instructions for how and how often to apply it. If you don’t need to be in direct sunlight for long periods, find shade under trees, canopies, tents, umbrellas and overhangs. Shade also reduces the direct heat your body absorbs from IR radiation, so you won’t feel as hot. Shade won’t make a difference in oppressive humidity, though.
Get more sun safety and health tips through an online search on UV radiation from experts like the American Academy of Dermatology, World Meteorological Organization, American Medical Association and Environmental Protection Agency.
Alan Sealls is chief meteorologist at NBC15 and an adjunct meteorology professor at the University of South Alabama.
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