Sunburned on a Cloudy Day

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Image from The Jagged Word

Andrea Hernandez

You might think you can’t get sunburned on a cloudy day. But some of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UVR) can pass through.

There are three  types of UV radiation from the sun: UVA, UVB, and UVC. While UVC gets filtered out in the ozone layer of the atmosphere, UVA and UVB reach the earth’s surface. UVA contributes to wrinkles and other signs of aging, while UVB affects the surface of the skin and can cause sunburns and skin cancer.

Reflective surfaces can increase UVR exposure. For example, snow reflects a higher amount of UVR compared to sand and metal. Skiers are exposed to more UVR because of altitude and reflection off the snow.

One way to counter UV radiation is by wearing sunscreen. Sunscreen protects you by reflecting and absorbing the UV rays through inorganic and organic chemicals. Inorganic chemicals like zinc oxide reflect UV rays. UV radiation can be absorbed by the chemical bonds of organic chemicals like avobenzone. The ingredients of the sunscreen slowly break down and release heat.

It might be best to purchase a sunscreen lotion with a broad-spectrum because it blocks against both UVA and UVB. It is recommended to use a Sun Protective Factor (SPF) sunscreen lotion higher than 15. The higher the SPF refers to the higher the percent the sunscreen protects against UV rays. Sunscreen cannot block 100 percent of UV rays. The SPF number refers to approximately how long it will take for a person’s skin to turn red.

Sun damage is cumulative–it builds up over time. Therefore, it is important to wear sunscreen and protective clothing whenever you are outdoors or working near a window, especially between the hours of 10am to 4pm.


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