Blog about skin health and skin cancer prevention

Skin cancer and the sun – why is UV protection so important?


Photo Werner Stieber-0925 (1)

OA Dr. Michael Tripolt, MPH, Dermatology and Venereology

Studied medicine at the Karl-Franzens-University Graz and Cambridge University (degree in Human Medicine 1999 and Public Health 2005). Residency at the Univ. Clinic Graz (graduated in surgery in 2006, graduated in dermatology in 2012).

After the colourful autumn comes the cold and dark winter. The days are getting shorter and shorter and thus the number of possible hours of sunshine is also decreasing. The sun worshippers among us take every opportunity to get some fresh air and stretch their heads towards the sun.

Yet many of us forget that UV radiation is just as present in the winter months as it is in the summer months. But what exactly is ultraviolet (UV) radiation and how does it affect our skin and health?

UV rays are contained in sunlight and are not visible to the human eye. Ultraviolet rays are divided into three groups and differ in wavelength.

The shorter the wavelength of the rays, the more effective and therefore dangerous they are for the human skin. A wavelength of below 300nm (nanometres) is particularly harmful and is contained in UV-B and UV-C rays. The vital ozone layer, 20 to 30 kilometres thick, absorbs most UV-C and UV-B rays, but it is not a free pass for hours of sunbathing without sunscreen.

Depending on geographic location, weather, time of year and day, and air pollution, UV radiation is harmful to varying degrees. The skin is exposed to UV radiation even in the cold winter months and should be adequately protected all year round.

In most cultures, tanned skin is associated with beauty, health and youth. For this very reason, many people neglect the important protection against UV radiation and are little informed about the negative effects on their skin.

UV radiation, which is responsible for skin tanning, penetrates the skin to different depths and can cause acute skin damage once the limit value (which varies from person to person) is exceeded.

How does a so-called overdose of UV radiation affect the human skin?

The best-known form of acute skin damage is sunburn, in which the irradiated skin reddens and swells. If the overstressed skin is exposed to even more UV radiation, blisters form, and if the skin is exposed to even more UV radiation, the superficial parts of the skin eventually perish: the tissue dies.

The damage that sunburn does to the body’s DNA is so great that even superficial reddening interrupts vital information chains. If the damage becomes greater, skin cancer can develop in these areas in the long term.

How can I adequately protect my skin from UV radiation and skin damage and reduce my personal risk of developing skin cancer?

  • The simplest but most effective rule is to avoid any reddening of the skin.
  • Furthermore, you should avoid the midday sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and remember to wear sun-proof clothing, hats, sunglasses, etc.
  • It is especially important to protect so-called sun terraces of the body (forehead/ bald head, ears, eyes, bridge of nose, lips, chin, shoulders, back, breasts, buttocks, back of feet) and uncovered skin areas with a sunscreen.
  • The following applies: always apply sunscreen evenly 30 minutes before sunbathing and renew the sunscreen several times a day.
  • For optimal protection even when bathing, it is best to use waterproof sunscreen products.

Last but not least, remember that natural and artificial UV radiation is the biggest risk factor for skin cancer. A risk that can be avoided. Natural UV rays are present throughout the year and therefore you should always protect your skin with a day cream with sun protection factor or sunscreen.

Artificial UV rays from tanning beds are classified as clearly carcinogenic according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
You can read more causes of skin cancer in upcoming blog articles on our SkinScreener blog and on our social media channels. Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to receive interesting facts and news.

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