What are the Dangers of UV Exposure?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The dangers of UV exposure are many, and unfortunately continue to be ignored by a number of people. This UV light, which can’t be seen and which is present any time during the day or used specifically for things like tanning, poses many health risks. These risks don’t seem evident just at the moment when a person steps outside without sunscreen, sunglasses or protective clothing or into a tanning booth. A reminder can be helpful in making good choices about UV exposure.

Wearing sunglasses that protect against UV rays can help protect the eyes.
Wearing sunglasses that protect against UV rays can help protect the eyes.

One of the principal dangers of UV exposure is that it has the ability to cause all types of skin cancer. People may get squamous or basal cell carcinomas, which typically stay in one location and don’t metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body. Some of these can grow very large and cause considerable scarring when they’re removed.

Skin cancer has been directly linked to UV rays.
Skin cancer has been directly linked to UV rays.

The much greater risk is developing melanoma. Unlike basal and squamous cell cancers, the presence of melanoma can be fatal. The cancer does metastasize and can move to other parts of the body, ultimately forming cancerous growths on vital organs. When people catch a melanoma early, they may be able to stem the course of this terrible disease, but lots of people don’t catch these cancers until they are fully advanced internally and affecting several organs. This can be a devastating illness that does claim more than its fair share of lives, and it is principally caused by UV exposure, especially through a lifetime.

Fair-skinned people should wear protective clothing when in the sun.
Fair-skinned people should wear protective clothing when in the sun.

Cancers of the skin aren’t the only potential UV exposure diseases. A number of eye deterioration diseases are linked to constant radiation. These include macular degeneration, which can cause blindness, particularly as people age. There is some indication that certain forms of cataracts may develop from UV exposure too. People can also get skin cancer around the eyes, which might change vision field or eye appearance.

UV radiation from sunlight can harm the eyes over time.
UV radiation from sunlight can harm the eyes over time.

The western world tends to be a culture of youth, where looking young is prized. UV exposure makes this much more difficult because it causes the skin to age more quickly. Ironically, at the same time, many people choose to tan outdoors or use tanning booths, and this is very ill-advised. Though operation of these booths is still legal, major medical groups condemn tanning as a practice that could not only promote aging, but also promote skin cancer. Instead, a number of medical groups recommend self-tanning creams, some of which are quite attractive.

The UV rays from tanning beds put frequent users at risk for developing health problems.
The UV rays from tanning beds put frequent users at risk for developing health problems.

Given the risk of UV exposure, and the very real risk of death and blindness, lots of people are anxious to avoid too much sun. The best advice is to use recommended levels of sunscreen on all exposed areas, to wear protective clothing like long sleeves, pants, hats, and sunglasses, and to avoid spending too much time outside during midday sun times, often identified as between about ten to three, though this can vary. It is especially important to adhere to these rules with children; their skin is much more vulnerable to damage.

For some people, exposure to the sun's rays can trigger a rash, hives, or other allergic reaction.
For some people, exposure to the sun's rays can trigger a rash, hives, or other allergic reaction.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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