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July 07, 2023 5 min read

Summer is here, and with it comes the need to protect ourselves from harmful UV radiation. UV rays are invisible to the naked eye, but their effects on our bodies can be devastating if not taken seriously.

In this blog post, we'll discuss the importance of protecting your brain and body from sun damage during UV Safety Awareness Month. We'll highlight the dangers of prolonged exposure to UV rays and provide tips on how to stay safe while enjoying the sun.

What is UV radiation?

Person laying under beach umbrella wearing a hat

UV radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun. It is composed of three different types of rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

UVC rays are absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere and do not reach the surface, but UVA and UVB rays can penetrate the skin and damage cells.

UVA Rays Vs. UVB Rays

UVA and UVB rays are both types of ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun, but they have different characteristics and effects on the body.

UVA rays account for the majority of UV radiation reaching the Earth's surface. They have a longer wavelength and can penetrate deeper into the skin compared to UVB rays.

Quick facts about UVA rays:

  1. Can penetrate the skin's dermis, the deeper layer beneath the outer epidermis. This leads to long-term damage, such as premature aging, wrinkles, and reduced elasticity.

  2. May contribute to immediate tanning of the skin, often seen as a temporary darkening or bronzing effect.

  3. Can indirectly damage DNA by generating free radicals, which can lead to skin cell mutations and an increased risk of skin cancer.

  4. Present throughout the year and can penetrate through clouds and windows, making protection necessary even on cloudy days or when indoors.

UVB rays have a shorter wavelength compared to UVA rays. They are often more intense and are the primary cause of sunburns.

Quick facts about UVB rays:

  1. Primarily affect the skin's outermost layer, the epidermis. Do not penetrate as deeply as UVA rays.

  2. Responsible for sunburns, which are visible within hours after exposure. Sunburns can cause redness, pain, blistering, and peeling.

  3. May directly damage the DNA in skin cells, contributing to an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

  4. More intense during the summer months and at higher altitudes. Blocked to a significant extent by clouds and glass, but some rays can still reach the skin.

Prolonged exposure to both types of UV rays can contribute to negative health effects like the development of skin cancer. It is essential to protect yourself from UV light by practicing the sun-safe behaviors we will discuss throughout the next few sections.

Why is it important to protect your brain from sun exposure?

Hat and sunglasses

You've probably heard all about the harmful effects that UV rays can have on the skin and eyes, but did you know that the sun's rays could also damage the brain?

The science behind UV radiation and its effects on the brain is quite complex, but the basic idea is that too much time in the sun can impair cognitive function. One study performed in 2020 found that prolonged sun exposure without proper head covering could heighten brainstem temperature, increasing the damaging effects of heat stress¹.

Another study from Seoul National University Hospital found evidence that UV irradiation in the skin could cause memory loss and cognitive impairment due to a decrease in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and an increase in the stress hormone corticosterone².

One common misconception about UV rays is that the harmful effects are limited to those with fair skin or those who spend a lot of time in the sun. However, this is not the case. UV radiation can affect anyone, regardless of skin color or time spent in the sun. It is important to take sun safety seriously, even if you don't think you are at risk.

Other Negative Effects of Sun Exposure

Excessive or prolonged sun exposure can have several negative effects on the body, including:

  • Sunburn. UVB rays penetrate the skin, causing redness, pain, swelling, and blistering of the skin. Severe sunburns may lead to peeling and increase the risk of long-term skin damage.

  • Skin aging. Indirect or direct sunlight can contribute to signs of aging such as the development of fine lines, age spots, and uneven skin tone. Some rays penetrate deep into the skin and break down collagen and elastin fibers, leading to wrinkles, sagging skin, and loss of elasticity.

  • Skin cancers. Prolonged sun exposure damages the DNA in skin cells, leading to mutations and an increased risk of developing skin cancer. This includes the most common types of skin cancer, such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, which is the most dangerous form³.

  • Eye damage. Spending time outdoors during peak hours of sunlight can harm the eyes, resulting in various eye conditions such as cataracts, photokeratitis, and pterygium. It could also increase the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss in older adults.

  • Weakened immune system. Too much sun exposure can have damaging effects on the immune system, reducing its ability to fight off infections and diseases⁴.

It's important to note that the risks associated with UV exposure depend on various factors, including the intensity of the sun, the duration of exposure, the person's skin type, and their level of protection.

What is UV Safety Awareness Month?

Sunflower wearing sunglasses

July is UV Safety Awareness Month, a time when organizations and healthcare professionals raise awareness about the dangers of soaking up too much sun. This is a great time to educate yourself and your loved ones on how to stay safe while enjoying the summer sun.

The Importance of Wearing a Hat

Wearing a hat is one of the easiest ways to protect your brain from the summer heat. A wide brimmed hat can provide shade for your face and head, reducing your overall exposure to different types of UV rays. Hats made from tightly woven fabrics may be a good choice, as they can block UV rays more efficiently than loosely woven fabrics.

Other Ways to Protect Yourself from UV Exposure

In addition to wearing a hat, there are many other ways to protect your brain from UV radiation.

  1. Applying sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher can help protect your skin and brain from sun damage. You may want to use a broad spectrum or water resistant sunscreen. Remember to reapply sunscreen frequently even on a cloudy day.

  2. Wearing sunglasses with UV protection can help protect your eyes and the delicate skin around them from UV rays. Sunglasses also increase comfort and safety while spending time outside by reducing glare and eye strain.

  3. Avoid peak UV hours when possible. Peak hours typically occur between 10am and 4pm, so try to plan activities accordingly and make sure shade is readily available for relief if you have to go outside.

Quick facts about sun protection:

  • Check the UV index before going outside.

  • Avoid indoor tanning beds.

  • Stay hydrated.

  • Wear protective, lightweight clothing.

  • Be cautious around reflective surfaces like water, sand, and snow.

Protecting your brain from UV radiation is an essential sun safety practice. This July, take the time to educate yourself on the dangers of UV radiation and how to stay safe while enjoying the sun.

Remember to wear a broad brimmed hat, apply sunscreen frequently, wear sunglasses, and avoid peak UV hours. By taking these simple steps, you can enjoy a safe and healthy summer.

(1) Piil, Jacob F., et al (May 2020) Direct exposure of the head to solar heat radiation impairs motor-cognitive performance

(2) Han, Mira, et al (November 2017) UV irradiation to mouse skin decreases hippocampal neurogenesis and synaptic protein expression via HPA axis activation

(3) American Cancer Society (July 2019) Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation

(4) Maglio, D. H. González, et al (December 2016) Sunlight Effects on Immune System: Is There Something Else in addition to UV-Induced Immunosuppression?