The sun: that brilliant orb in the sky that provides us with light, vitamin D and a great atmosphere for barbeques, picnics and days at the beach. It's also responsible for high sunscreen sales in the summer and during tropical vacations. Everyone knows how important it is to protect themselves with sunscreen and sun-protective clothing in the summer or on the beach. But few people understand how UV rays threaten our health from below. UV radiation can also reach us by being reflected or scattered up from lower surfaces and cause damage to our skin or eyes.
UV rays contain both UVA and UVB radiation and travel in a direct line from the sun to the earth regardless of the weather. Living organisms absorb these rays, while a number of surfaces - snow, sand, water - reflect them. Most of us were taught to stay out of the sun in order to protect ourselves from skin cancer, sunburn and premature aging of the skin. But it's also extremely important to protect yourself from reflective sunrays, which are almost as dangerous as direct rays. White paint, for example, can reflect as much as 22% of a full dose of sun; dry beach sand reflects 15% - 18% and snow can reflect up to 88% of UV rays!
Here are some examples where reflective rays may be causing you damage, unbeknownst to you:
- Sitting under an umbrella
- Deep sea fishing, even under a Bimini
- Snow skiing
- Standing next to a car
Even wearing a wide brim sun hat does not protect you from rogue UV radiation. Random rays of sunlight can strike your face and neck from below the brim of the hat when reflecting off of lower surfaces.
Children are especially susceptible to harm from direct and indirect UV radiation because their skin is thinner and more sensitive. Those with moles, fair hair/skin and a family history of skin cancer tend to be even more vulnerable to the sun. In fact, babies under six months old should not be in direct sunlight at all, so be aware of reflected radiation when you position your baby's stroller. Not only are children more susceptible to sun damage, but those that do get sunburned are more likely to develop melanoma later in life. Keeping reflective rays in mind will help you go far in protecting your young ones from sun related problems later on.
Being conscious of the wily nature of UV rays is important for enjoying the picnic and still keeping you and your family sun safe. General rule of thumb: Wear sun protective clothing, a sun hat, sunscreen and 100% UV protective sunglasses. When sun protective clothing is not practical, such as over the face, apply broad spectrum sunscreen. Fabric is always better than sunscreen in protecting you from harmful UV rays. (Side note: Wetting your sun protective shirt or hats is a fabulous way to create evaporative cooling. You would be amazed how cool you stay!)