Understanding UV Ratings and Index

We hear the phrase “UV ratings” all the time — more often in summer months when we’re reminded to slather on the sunscreen — but how many of us really know what that means?  UV is short for ultraviolet radiation, which comes from the sun. Hence the association of UV rays with sunburns and skin cancer. But there’s so much more! The health consequences of too much of a good thing — because we all love a sunny day — also includes things like immune system suppression, cataracts and eye cancer, in addition to premature aging of the skin. Never fear, help is here.

A Brief Lesson

There are different categories of ultraviolet radiation. There’s UVA, UVB and UVC, each with a different wavelength. UVA has the longest wavelength and comprises about 95% of our planet’s surface radiation. It penetrates deep into the skin to do its damage, but it’s not the one that causes sunburn. That’s UVB, which is associated with malignant melanoma. That’s why you must invest in a full-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both. UVC has the shortest wavelength, and though UVC is the most damaging type, it is “blocked” by the ozone layer. But don’t get a false sense of security about that. Just ask Australia and other regions where the ozone layer has thinned.

About Those Ratings

To help people understand degrees of intensity, a UV Index was devised to describe the level of radiation on a scale from 1 to 11+ (low to extreme). It’s a tool anyone can use to know what their potential exposure will be at any given time of day, any time of year, and any location. Experts are even able to forecast, just like the weather, UV ratings. Check out this super cool tool at uvawareness.com and learn what you’re in for the next time you head to the beach or on vacation!

One thing to keep in mind is that UV peaks at “solar noon” — which does not necessarily correlate to noon on the clock. It’s always between 10am and 4pm, so cover up! Also, UV bounces off reflective surfaces like water, so be especially mindful when near your pool. May we suggest a colorful umbrella as a summer splurge? And perhaps more early morning and sunset swims. Now that’s living.