Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Sun: Is It As Dangerous As People Claim?

. Vman103-Productions

This article is part of Real Food Wednesday. Sorry I forgot to mention that.

The sun—we cannot live with it, nor without it. At least that is how many see it today. Without getting too deep into it, this article will discuss the makeup of sunlight, and whether it is truly dangerous. What do you think? Is the sun a dangerous, carcinogenic stellar body? Or is it truly the light of the world? Read on and find out!

The sun is believed to be dangerous—so dangerous, in fact, that many people have to lather sunscreen on the minute they leave their home. Many people also link the sun to skin cancer.

To be specific, it is ultraviolet(UV) light that causes any of the aforementioned skin problems. Aside from that, the sun's rays are also 50 percent infrared light, and 40 percent of it is in the visible light spectrum. The rest is UV light, a modest 10 percent.

Ultraviolet Light: What Is It Exactly?

Ultraviolet is a spectrum of light that lies beyond the visible light spectrum, just above the highest frequency—the color violet. It has a total wavelength range of 400 and 100 nanometres. UV waves have a shorter wavelength than visible light, but are longer than x-ray waves. They are normally invisible to the human eye, with the exception of those afflicted with aphakia.

There are three divisions of UV light. The first is UVA light. It has the longest wavelength of all three. Its wavelength is anywhere between 400 to 315 nanometres(nm). UVB has a range of 315 to 280nm. Finally, UVC has the shortest wavelength on the UV spectrum, running between 280 and 100nm. In this article we will discuss the three different forms of UV light.

UVA, UVB, and UVC: What Is the Difference?

First we will look at UVA. It has the longest wavelength, measuring at 400 to 315 nanometres. Because of its long wavelength, it has high penetrability, and as such it can pierce through clouds. It goes through windows. It even stays at consistent levels throughout the day. It can even go through the atmosphere, mostly unhindered! Still, is it that dangerous?

Due to its long wavelength, it can penetrate to the dermis(the second layer of skin, where new cells are made). Nonetheless, a short wavelength also means low energy, meaning its damage factor is laughable, to be blunt.

UVB light, on the other hand, is more dangerous to the skin—but only in excessive exposure. Your body needs it to produce vitamin D. Think of it as human photosynthesis of sorts. UVB light cannot penetrate clouds and is mostly present between the hours of 10AM and 4PM, give or take. They are more dangerous at high altitudes or in the presence of reflective surfaces. That includes snow and ice as well. On a last note, the UVB is most prominent on seasons where the sun shines directly onto your area—Spring and Summer here in the US.

It is noteworthy that UVB's shorter wavelength means it only penetrates to the first layer of the skin, called the epidermis. But it also packs more energy, and thus can cause more damage. It is, in fact, what causes sun burns. But the atmosphere absorbs most of it, and it can't travel through glass.

We will briefly cover UVC light. Normally, it never reaches the earth. It has a negligible penetrability, which means it can't penetrate much of anything, let alone skin. However, it packs much more power than UVA and UVB light, such that it can mutate DNA and even kill bacteria and viruses!

How to Protect Yourself

So how do we protect ourselves? By avoiding the sun like it's a deadly "death star"? No. First of all, we have an atmosphere, and it filters out most of the sunlight. Therefore, we need not avoid ALL sunlight. It is 10% UV light—enough to kill anything. But only 3% reaches the surface, that is, when the sun is at a peak known as the zenith.

So now that we covered UV light, here lies the question: how do we protect ourselves? Firstly, take note that the skin needs a certain amount of sunlight to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D. I suggest around 15 minutes, give or take a few, or until your skin turns pink. After that, suit up! Put on reflective clothes and large hats. The hats cast a shadow over your face, which is very nice.

If you must use sunscreen, then look for the kinds that don't have toxic ingredients in them. Protecting your skin doesn't mean anything if you do that with carcinogenic chemicals often found in sunscreen. Natural sunscreen formulas work best, and though expensive, they should last a while. It's not like you need to slather it on enough that you look like a glazed pottery vessel.

Concerns About UV Light

There are a few concerns to keep in mind about ultraviolet light. Firstly, it causes free radical formation in the body. Free radicals are molecules that have an odd number of valence electrons. Put simply, they mug other atomic particles of their electrons, starting a chain reaction that can destroy cells and even alter DNA. The mutations could then result in cancer. Free radicals can really cause destruction!

With that in mind, just how dangerous can it get? As mentioned in the previous paragraph, free radicals can result in cancer. In fact, it is not a stretch to say they are a heavy contributor to cancer! But there lies an easy solution to this problem: antioxidants. What are they?

Antioxidants are compounds that neutralize free radicals. Not only are they very effective, but they are very common to boot. Actually, though, antioxidants are a facet of a plant's natural defences, and therefore is found in every plant that exists. But some foods are known for having more than others. One example are blueberries. Indeed, antioxidants are not hard to come by!

Is One Type of UV Light More Dangerous Than the Other?

The answer depends on where you live. UVC is, objectively, the most destructive, but it never penetrates the atmosphere, and the only way to get it is by way of lights that produce it, like germicidal lights. It can kill bacteria and alter DNA, so it is not to be taken lightly.

UVB light, then, is the most dangerous for everybody. While UVA goes deeper, UVB ultimately has greater capacity to harm you. That is not to say you should ignore UVA—it can still harm you. Have you gotten a sunburn on a cloudy day? That is caused by UVA light. Unlike UVB, it can penetrate the clouds.

As the old proverb goes, it is not the mere fact of having it, but too much of it that causes harm. That principle can apply to anything. The sun itself is not dangerous, but excess exposure that causes harm. But that is not the only factor to look out for. Next time we will look into how the skin adapts to sun exposure, and that impacts your vulnerability to the sun's rays.


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