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The UV Index: Protecting Your Skin

Now that it has stopped storming, we all want to spend as much time outside as possible. While you’re out enjoying everything that summer has to offer, don’t forget to protect your skin. The sun’s rays can be great but they can also be harmful to your skin.

We interact with ultraviolet (UV) radiation everyday. The UV radiation from the Sun passes the Earth’s atmosphere and is capable of penetrating our layers of skin. Excessive exposure to the Sun’s UV radiation can lead to skin cancer, pre-mature again and other skin damage, cataracts, and suppress your immune system.

There are different types of UV radiation – UVA and UVB. UVA radiation passes deep into the skin, and can cause long-term skin damage including pre-mature aging and wrinkles. This form of UV radiation has a longer wavelength, it is less intense but also more prevalent throughout the day. UVA radiation is known as the “tanning ray.” Indoor tanning beds also emit UVA radiation.


UVB radiation is known to cause sunburns and turns your skin a lovely shade of red.

How do you know how much UV radiation you will come in contact with? The UV index is a forecast for the expected risk of overexposure to UV radiation from the sun. It is on a scale of 0 to 11 or more – low to extremely high. This scale explains your risk and recommendations for sun protection. For example, on a day where the UV index is 8 your risk for overexposure is very high and a burn on unprotected skin could occur in as little as 15 minutes.

Ozone depletion, seasonal and weather variations cause different amounts of UV radiation to reach the Earth. Generally the UV index will be higher on a sunny day rather than a cloudy one. Fewer clouds allow more rays to freely pass through the atmosphere than be re-admitted to space. Readings are also higher in the summer than winter due to our relationship to the Sun. (You should still wear sunscreen every day of the year. Not just bright, sunny summer ones.)

You don’t need to immediately run to your computer or check your phone for the day’s UV index. Try out the shadow test. If your shadow is taller than you (this occurs during the early morning or late afternoon), your UV exposure is likely lower. Meanwhile if your shadow is shorter (around mid-day), there’s a greater risk of UV exposure. The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM.

Before any outdoor activity, generously apply broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF-15 or higher. Re-apply every few hours, especially if you are swimming or working outside. Wear protective clothing (light-weight, lightly colored, loose-fitting), a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses. It is best to wear sunglasses that block out 99-100% of UVA and UVA radiation.

I just realized this was the second weather safety post that I put together this week! Check back tomorrow for a “forecast post.”

Jill Szwed

Jill Szwed

Jill Szwed is the Weekend Evening and Afternoon Meteorologist at LEX 18.
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