UVR Protection: Why do we need it? How do we get it?

Within the ultraviolet radiation (UVR) spectrum, UVA, B and C are detrimental to our health, and we are being increasingly exposed to these wavelengths while at work, home, and leisure.  The main source of ultra violet radiation (UVR) is the sun, yet technology that incorporates UVR is now part of our daily life at home and at work.  UVR is used by the medical industry to treat many conditions as well. 

Today it is widely recognised that exposure to UVR can be harmful.  Exposing our skin can result in a wide variety of skin conditions from premature aging to cancer.  A person’s cumulative exposure to UVR along with the number of severe sunburns and their skin type, increases their risk of developing skin cancer.  Skin cancers affect people of all skin types and the incidence of skin cancer has been steadily rising each year, and is affecting younger and younger people.  UVR also has a detrimental effect on our eyes, lips, immune system and our general well-being.  Researchers at the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Research Institute (MASCRI) have found that even small doses of UVR cause significant immunosuppression in the skin.  But the sun is necessary for the production of vitamin D.  Studies on latitudinal differences in incidence of 13 different cancers indicates that UVR and vitamin D could have a key role in disease incidence ie the more UVR and subsequent vitamin D production the less the likelihood of developing cancer.

The sun is the chief source of UVR and the amount of UVR received at ground level is depend on many factors including sun angle, geographic position, seasonal effects, cloud cover, ozone, scattering, reflectivity of the environment, and altitude.  But the sun is not the only source of UVR.  UVR also comes from: phototherapy, solariums, fluorescent, neon and halogen lighting, industrial arc welding, industrial/workplace UVR lamps, ‘Black lights’, germicidal UVR lamps, UV lasers.

The dangers are not just to the human body, when a fluorescent light or tube is broken or placed in a landfill or incinerator, mercury is released into the environment.  The amount of mercury contained in just 25 standard fluorescent lamps can pollute a 8 hectare (20 acre) lake, making the fish in the lake unsafe for human consumption.  Approximately 80 percent of all fluorescent lights and tubes are used by commercial buildings.  Many million of these are discarded each year, making these lights one of the largest sources of mercury in the solid waste stream.

Understanding the dangers of UVR means we need to avoid excessive exposure.  To limit our exposure to non-industrial UVR ie to solar UVR we can stay indoors away from windows, or if we are outside we can use shade devices, sun protective clothing, hat, sunglasses and sunscreen

The majority of sunscreens available on the market today are chemical cocktails.  They are used without knowing what they are and what they do to our bodies in the long term.  The toxic ingredients in sunscreens are not limited to the active ingredients ie the chemicals that provide the SPF, but are also the supporting chemicals eg ones to make them stay on our skin, last longer, feel less greasy, etc etc etc.

It is not just the chemical barrier sunscreens that are cause for concern.  There are concerns about the physical barriers, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide because they are now reduced to nanoparticle size for cosmetic reasons, but in this form can enter the body through the skin and once inside the body they have toxic and damaging effects.  There is also concern about them entering the water and aquatic food chain.  There is also real concern about the endocrine disrupting chemical barriers entering water bodies.  Their routes of entry to water bodies are numerous.  We apply sunscreens before we go swimming in the ocean, lakes, rivers, and dams.  We wash the sunscreens from our body in the shower or bath. 

Many plants have developed their own UVR protection and it is the extracts or oils from these plants that can provide us with natural protection.  The SPF ratings for these extracts and oils are not as high as synthetically produced products but they are safe for us and for the environment.