Protect Yourself and Others Against UV Rays This Summer


UV Awareness 2024
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The month of July is UV Awareness Month!

While enjoying the summer rays, it’s important to protect yourself and loved ones against the UV light that comes from the sun.

As the summer heat continues and outdoor activities begin, let’s dive into best practices for UV protection and how they can help prevent sunburns, sun damage, and more!

What are UV Rays?

CDC defines UV rays as an invisible kind of radiation from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps.

UV radiation is divided into 3 main groups:

  • UVA: While they have the least energy of UV rays, UVA radiation makes up 95% of the all the UV rays that make it to the Earth’s surface. They can cause skin cells to age and can cause some indirect damage to cells’ DNA.
  • UVB: UVB radiation makes up only 5% of the UV rays from the sun. But they have slightly more energy than UVA rays.
  • UVC: UVC radiation has more energy than the other types of UV rays and can come from some man-made sources like welding torches, mercury lamps, and UV sanitizing bulbs. Normally, these rays aren’t a risk factor for skin cancer.

“UVA rays have the longest wavelengths, followed by UVB, and UVC rays which have the shortest wavelengths. While UVA and UVB rays are transmitted through the atmosphere, all UVC and some UVB rays are absorbed by the Earth’s ozone layer. So, most of the UV rays you come in contact with are UVA with a small amount of UVB,” according to the FDA.

Sunlight is the main source of UV radiation.

“The amount of UV exposure a person gets depends on the strength of the rays, the length of time the skin is exposed, and whether the skin is protected with clothing or sunscreen,” according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Ultimately, UV rays can damage skin.

UV Exposure Health Risks

Short-term UV overexposure can cause issues like sunburn.

“UVA rays are most likely to cause sunburns as they are the most prominent type of UV ray on earth. UVA rays will also penetrate the skin down to the middle layer (dermis). UVB rays can penetrate the top layer of skin, meaning they can also cause sunburn,” according to UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

Long-term over exposure can have much harsher consequences including premature aging (like wrinkles and liver spots), skin damage, and even eye disease.

“Eye problems due to UV rays causing the cornea (on the front of the eye) become inflamed or burned. They can also lead to the formation of cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye) and pterygium (tissue growth on the surface of the eye), both of which can impair vision,” according to ACS.

Skin cancer is also linked to exposure to UV rays, whether from sunlight or tanning devices.

sunscreen uv rays outdoors summer heat water lake ocean“The risk is higher for people with a weakened immune system, a personal or family history of skin cancer, and if they have large or many moles on their skin,” according to ACS.

Studies have found that basal and squamous cell skin cancers are linked to certain behaviors and history of having sunburns and sun-related skin damage.

These behaviors include:

  • Spending time in the sun for recreation (including going to the beach)
  • Spending a lot of time in the sun with unprotected or exposed skin
  • Living in an area that gets a lot of sunlight
  • Having had serious sunburns in the past (with more sunburns linked to a higher risk)
  • Having signs of sun damage to the skin, such as liver spots, actinic keratoses (rough skin patches that can be precancerous), and solar elastosis (thickened, dry, wrinkled skin caused by sun exposure) on the neck

Sun exposure behaviors are also linked melanoma of the skin, another form of skin cancer.

The CDC reports that anyone can experience harmful health effects from UV radiation, but there are increased risks for the issues for people who:

  • Spend a lot of time in the sun or have been sunburned.
  • Have light-color skin, hair, and eyes.
  • Take some types of oral and topical medicines, such as antibiotics, birth control pills, and benzoyl peroxide products, as well as some cosmetics. These medications may increase skin and eye sensitivity to UV in all skin types.
  • Have a family member with skin cancer.
  • Are over age 50.

“Protection from UV rays is important all year, not just during the summer. UV rays can reach you on cloudy and cool days, and they reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow,” according to CDC.

Protection Against UV Overexposure

With the many health risks that come with UV overexposure, it’s crucial that everyone takes initiative and use best practices to protect themselves.


Shielding your skin from UV rays is important when it comes to protection.

So, staying in the shade under an umbrella, tree, or other shelter can help when it comes to protecting one’s skin. Schools also are encouraged to plan for shade when developing or renovating school buildings, playgrounds, or athletic fields.

“It’s important to take care of yourself, even if you are in the shade. UV rays can reflect off surfaces like concrete, water, sand and snow, and still cause significant damage to your skin,” according to the University of Texas MD Cancer Center.

Clothing and Accessories

Coverage is also important.

Wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, skirts, a t-shirt, a beach cover-up, or clothes made from tightly woven fabric can provide adequate sun protection.

“A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors. Some clothing is certified under international standards as offering UV protection,” the CDC reports.

Similarly, hats can also provide protection. Wearing a wide brim hat provides shade to the face, head, ears, and neck.

Sunglasses are also useful when it comes to blocking out the sun’s harmful rays.

“Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection,” according to the CDC.  “Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.”


Broad-spectrum sunscreen is one of the most essential resources when it comes to UV exposure protection.

“Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97% of the sun’s UVB rays,” according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

Sunscreen works best when it’s reapplied correctly.

Per recommendation, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours when outdoors, on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.

“Sunscreen is not recommended for babies who are 6 months old or younger. The US Food and Drug Administration recommends keeping infants out of the sun during midday and using protective clothing if they have to be in the sun,” according to the CDC.

Safety in Your Community 

How is the safety and health in the area you live in?

Learn more about the conditions of your community with the Salud America! Health Equity Report Card.

Explore local data on several health-related topics including housing, transportation, and environmental justice index.

Compare the data to other counties across your state and the nation.

Share your findings with city leaders and representatives in your city to advocate for change in your area!


Explore More:


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