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Ultra Violet light emitted from the sun light is one of the keys to life on earth and is vital for our existence. Our delicate atmosphere filters out and protects us from most of the dangerous wavelengths of light emitted from the sun, and allows the wavelengths beneficial to us to reach the surface of the earth.


Various environmental factors are having an impact on our atmosphere (e.g. the depletion of the ozone layer by CFC’s), and consequently the earth’s filtration system is being compromised. This means that more Ultra Violet light is being allowed to hit the earth’s surface that previously, and it is Ultra Violet light that cause’s sunburn and skin cancer.

Ultra Violet Light (UV) is made up of UVA, UVB, and UVC.


Understanding the following concepts is important in understanding the impact of UV light:

  • Long wavelengths penetrate deeper but have less energy.

  • Shorter wavelengths penetrate less but have more energy.

  • The higher the energy, the more the damage. The longer the wavelength, the deeper the penetration into the skin.


UVA has the longest wavelength and lowest energy – 320-400 nm, and so penetrates the atmosphere well and likewise penetrates deepest into the skin. Because it has low energy, exposure to UVA causes the skin to feel warm, but does not cause sun burn (reddening and irritation). Instead, prolonged exposure to UVA will cause the skin to tan, and is directly linked to the formation of skin cancer and premature skin ageing. New developments in sunscreen are therefore focused on better protection from UVA.


UVA can be sub-divided into UVA 1 (very long wavelength) 340 – 400nm and UVA 2 (long wavelength) 320 – 340 nm. Traditionally, sunscreens that claim broad spectrum have focused on blocking UVA 2 only, but research is showing that although UVA 1 has little energy, it too is capable of contributing to skin cancer. New generation sunscreens block UVA1 and UVA2.

Tanning beds expose skin to far higher doses of UVA that normal environmental exposure, and therefore are a major contributor to premature skin aging (wrinkling) and skin cancer, and should be avoided. There is no such thing as a healthy tan. If you have tanned, you have damaged your skin.


The damage caused by UVA exposure is cumulative over your lifetime, starting at birth. You cannot repair the damage done – you can only limit further damage through skin protection. Protecting infants and children from over exposure to sun light is vital.


UVB has a shorter wavelength than UVA (more energy) 290 – 320 nm. This means it does not penetrate into the skin as deeply as UVA and has more of a surface action. It does however have more energy which causes the skin to become irritated, hot and red (traditional “sun burn”). This effect is almost immediate and is uncomfortable, and can lead to sunstroke. UVB damages the skin in a similar way to UVA, but because UVB causes immediate discomfort, people tend to be proactive in protecting against exposure to UVB and therefore sunburn.


UVC has the shortest wavelength of the UV Spectrum and the most energy. Luckily for us it has very little penetration power (short wavelength) and therefore our atmosphere filters it out completely and prevents us being exposed. If skin were to be exposed to UVC, it would burn quickly and extensively.


Consequently, sunscreens do not need to focus on blocking out UVC.


Skin Cancer

There are 3 major types of skin cancer associated with UV exposure:


Basal Cell Carcinoma - Raised, translucent, pearly nodules that may crust, ulcerate and sometimes bleed. Occurs most often on the face and other exposed areas, but can appear anywhere.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma - Usually raised, pink opaque nodules or patches that frequently form ulcers or sores in the centre. Appears most often on exposed areas of the body.

Malignant Melanoma - Often small, brown or black, or larger multi-coloured patches with an irregular outline which may crust and bleed. Malignant melanoma may occur in pre-existing moles or skin spots. They can also appear like freckles from previously normal skin.


The following risk factors heighten the chance of developing skin cancer:

  • fair skin, light hair, light eye colour and the tendency to burn easily and tan with difficulty 

  • large brown moles at birth 

  • unusual moles (larger than 0,76cm irregular in shape and multi-coloured) 

  • a record of blistering sunburns, especially when young

  • outdoor occupations and outdoor recreational habits

  • a family history of malignant melanoma 

  • had a malignant melanoma in the past


Sometimes moles that have been unchanged for years can suddenly turn cancerous due to sun exposure. It is important to monitor your moles regularly for signs of change. Use the ABCD system for identifying moles that need to be brought to your doctors attention:

  • Asymmetry- The two halves of your mole do not look the same.

  • Border- The edges of your mole are irregular, blurred or jagged.

  • Colour - The colour of your mole is uneven, with more than one shade.

  • Diameter - Your mole is wider than 6mm in diameter


Other signs of skin cancer are:

  • A new growth or sore that won't heal

  • A spot, mole or sore that itches or hurts

  • A mole or growth that bleeds, crusts or scabs


For more information on skin cancer, please follow the link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skin_cancer








Skin Cancer on Wikipedia


USA agent (Gavin Myles)



UK agent (Dave Parry)




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