Spring is in the air, which means summer is around the corner. With summer comes warm weather, which means more time outside and fewer coats and sweatshirts. But the warm weather also means more sun, and with more sun comes sunburn. 

It is common knowledge that excessive sunburn, caused by the ultraviolet rays of the sun, can lead to melanoma and skin cancer. The sun emits three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA and UVB both penetrate the ozone layer, impacting the organisms of Earth, while UVC is almost entirely blacked out. Consequently, UVC is not harmful, while UVA and UVB can cause lasting damage. UVB causes most sunburns, while UVA causes withering and wrinkling by aging the skin cells of an organism. 

Photo By Nick Penzel

The term “sunburn” refers to how skin can become pink or red and painful in mild cases, and can blister and peel in extreme cases after too much exposure to sunlight. The “burn” is caused by the UV — not infrared — rays of the sun. The latter causes the heat of sunlight, which is why sunburns are not usually felt by an individual until after exposure. The UV rays damage the DNA within the harmed skin cells. If enough cells are contaminated, the DNA damage can begin to grow in the infected area. 

Luckily, there is a way to combat sunburn and prevent the painful effects altogether — sunscreen. By using specific organic and inorganic ingredients, sunscreen can reflect and absorb around 90% of UV rays. 

The Sun Protection Factor is found on most bottles of sunscreen and indicates how much and how long the lotion can protect the skin. Higher SPF numbers mean that more UV rays will be blocked and that the sunscreen will protect the skin longer than sunscreens with lower SPF numbers. However, while sunscreen can be advertised to last multiple hours, it should be reapplied every hour or two to maximize protection.

Although the summer sun is a motivator for increased sunscreen use, it is important to be aware of the possibility of sunburn on cloudier days. UV rays can pierce through clouds on a dreary day, or even reflect off snow during winter; while the effects of sunburn may not be as significant, the damage that can occur is constantly looming. So, while you prepare to combat the sun for the upcoming summer months, don’t forget to lather up, even after the summer season comes to a close.  

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