ultraviolet radiation

Protecting Your Eyes Year Round

By Lina Younes

Recently I took my mother to the ophthalmologist for her check-up.  She has developed several eye conditions related to the process of aging and to extended sun exposure. Cataracts and macular degeneration are just some of the conditions that can develop due to ultraviolet radiation and aging. Having spent most of her life in Puerto Rico it is very difficult to escape those powerful ultraviolet rays!  As far as I remember she has always worn sunglasses.  In her youth, it was mostly for fashion purposes. In her later years, she has been wearing prescription sunglasses. Yet the prolonged exposure to UV radiation has taken its toll on her eyes over the years.

Originally, I thought that you needed to protect your eyes mostly in the summertime. As I have read more on the issue, I’ve realized that since ultraviolet radiation does not “take a break” during the winter months, you really have to protect your eyes even if it’s cold and dreary outside.

Did you know that snow and ice absorb more light than water? Thus, you need to protect yourself from UV radiation in wintry conditions or while having fun on sunny slopes as well. Have you heard of the temporary disorder called snow blindness or photokeratitis? Do you recall the recent news story of the news reporter who became temporarily blind because he had actually sunburnt his eyes while out in the water for an extended time?

The fact is that we have to be more vigilant in order to protect our skin and eyes from ultraviolet radiation regardless of our complexion or the time of year. Do you have any sun safety tips that you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hot Times, Summer in the City – Be Sun Smart

A man bathes in the sun in Washington Square Park. (EPA Photo/Kasia Broussalian)

By Bonnie Bellow

The warm weather and the official approach of summer have pulled New Yorkers out of their apartments and into the streets. Everywhere you look, people are soaking up the sun – stretched out on park lawns, grabbing lunch on city benches, perched on stoops or just walking. The sun brings warmth and feelings of well being, but it can also bring skin cancer. How many of the millions of people out and about in New York every day think to apply sunscreen or grab a hat before going out? City dwellers need to be aware that just taking precautions when they go to the beach is not enough to prevent what can be a deadly disease. Eighty percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through light clouds, mist and fog, and snow can reflect more than 80 percent of the sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is on the rise among young adults. Everyone needs to be concerned about skin cancer and act to prevent it, no matter who they are or where they live.

I first learned about skin cancer in my 20’s, when to my surprise, an irritation on my forehead turned out to be a basal cell skin cancer. Light skinned and freckled, I roasted as a small child on Long Island beaches and spent my teen years cultivating a lovely tan by smearing myself with baby oil and using a reflector to increase the glow. I paid the price. Luckily for me, the skin cancers that have appeared on my face and chest periodically throughout my adult life have been non-invasive. But, they caused discomfort, anxiety and scars and cost thousands over the years in medical bills. And all that sun increased my risk of developing the more serious type of skin cancer, melanoma.

The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention has designated the Friday before Memorial Day weekend as Don’t Fry Day to remind everyone to protect their skin while enjoying the outdoors. Check out their website and learn about SunWise, the EPA program that teaches children and their caregivers about how to protect against overexposure to the sun.

I still enjoy the sun, but I take a few minutes each morning, winter and summer, to apply cream containing sunscreen to my face and slather some sunscreen on my hands and arms if they will be exposed. I wear sunglasses and add a hat when I am going to be outdoors for a stretch or at the beach. We all need the sun for our emotional and physical health, but we need to wear it well!

About the author: Bonnie Bellow has been the Region 2 Director of Public Affairs since 1995, responsible for intergovernmental, media and international relations; community engagement; environmental education; Freedom of Information Act requests; social media and public information. She previously served as Public Affairs Director at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, ran her own media production business and worked as a radio reporter. Bonnie received her Bachelor of Science degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, but is a born and bred New Yorker who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sunny Slopes – Ski Safely!

By Julie Kunrath

Pausing at the top of the ski slope, you look down to take in the magnificent view—a scattering of white-dusted trees, rocky peaks glowing on the horizon, powdery snow begging for fresh tracks…

…and high levels of ultraviolet radiation reflecting back at you.

Where’s your sunscreen?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun isn’t just a summer concern. Sunburns happen year-round, and sun protection is especially important for winter sports, since UV radiation reflects off snow. Because of this reflection, UV intensity can be deceptively high, even in the shade. In addition, UV radiation increases with altitude because there is less chance for the atmosphere to absorb the sun’s rays. Skiing at 8,000 feet certainly offers epic views, but it also exposes you to the invisible danger of UV radiation.

As an avid skier, my father put my siblings and me on skis at an early age. Following many of my childhood skiing adventures, I remember the infamous “goggle tan”—a distinct white mask surrounded by red skin. Back then, I was just embarrassed to have a “raccoon face.” Today I understand this was a sign of overexposure to UV radiation. This was a sunburn, an indication of damaged skin and a risk factor for future skin cancer.

As the most common cancer in the U.S., skin cancer is no light matter. Every hour, one American dies from skin cancer. The good news is that skin cancer is preventable with simple sun safety strategies, like sunscreen. As a tough man of the mountains, my dad never wore sunscreen when he skied, so neither did I. I didn’t wise up until a few years ago when my older brother handed me a sunscreen bottle while gearing up for a ski day. Sometimes older brothers know best.

My advice for all snow worshippers: keep a small bottle of sunscreen in the pocket of your winter jacket. Make sure it’s broad spectrum with SPF 30 or higher. pic of UV Widget Slather it on your exposed skin before you hit the slopes and every two hours thereafter. Lift rides or hot chocolate breaks in the lodge are good times to reapply. Your eyes are just as sensitive to sun damage as your skin; protect them with sunglasses or ski goggles that have 99–100% UVA/UVB protection. You can also check the UV Index for a forecast of the day’s UV intensity. Who wants a raccoon face anyway?

About the author: Julie Kunrath is an ASPH Fellow hosted by the SunWise program in the Office of Air and Radiation in DC.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.