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Sun Exposure & UV Rays: The Basic Facts

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The human body benefits from sun exposure. And a little bit of tan protects you from the sun. Right? Wrong!

The body does indeed benefit from sun exposure. But a little bit of tan does not necessarily protect you from the sun. Letís see why.

The sunís rays are a major source of vitamin D and help the bodyís systems acquire much needed calcium for building healthy bones. However, most people donít need to spend large amounts of time exposed to the sun in order to get their required amount of vitamin D.

In fact, the bodyís health can actually suffer negative effects when itís exposed too long to the sunís rays, especially if itís unprotected. Results can vary from skin and eye damage to immune system suppression and ultimately cancer, even for the young.

So letís look at the basic facts about sun exposure.

There are three kinds of invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays in the sun that reaches earth: UVA, UVB, and UVC. When these rays come in contact with our skin, affects of UVA and UVB can be - tans, burns and other reactions (e.g. like acne and cancer).

Itís also notable that the effects of all UV rays are not the same. Depending upon the season, time of day and place on the planet in relation to the sun - (i.e. your altitude and latitude), the raysí intensities vary. For example, during summertime, UV rays are at their strongest. Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the rays are strongest. And close to the equator and at high altitudes (where air and cloud cover are less, resulting in increased harmful penetration of UV rays into the environment), the rays are also strongest.

In order to protect ourselves from the harmful UV rays, letís look at the skinís first defense - melanin.

Melanin is a chemical present in a variety of colors and concentrations in most people's skin that helps with defense from the sun. Melanin reacts with UV rays and absorbs them. Or rather, to be more specific, the rays act upon melanin, causing the melanin to spread out or grow, increasing its presence in response to the sunís exposure. The result? A Ďsun taní. The darker the skin color, the more melanin the skin has for protection. And Ďtanningí for darker color is included here; Ďcolorí does not have to refer to just the original skin color.

A word of cautionÖ

Tanning may look great on the surface, - but the amount and length of time a person is exposed to the sun, determines the amount of possible damage. It also determines the future risk of damage thatís likely.

For example, people who are exposed to the sun in huge doses like ship crews, field workers and beach surfers, are at higher risks for skin damage than indoor workers. What happens is that when the amount of UV exposure is greater than what the skin's melanin can handle, sunburn can result. And those with lighter, fairer skin, who have less melanin, absorb less UV, suffering less protection.

Since research has shown that UV damage from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer, (with as high as 20% of some populations developing skin cancer during their lifetime), we need to take a proactive approach in relation to sun exposure to avoid harmful skin damage.

As we say colloquially here in Australia - ďSlip, Slop, SlapĒ. (I.e. ĎSlipí on a shirt, ĎSlopí on a hat, ĎSlapí on a sunscreen). Look after the skin youíve got, because youíre the one who will be living with it!
Angela Perin is editor of the 'Safe Tan Ezine', which features practical articles and tips on Beauty, Fitness, Nutrition and more. SAFE TAN - The Ulimate Experience in Natural Sunless Tanning


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