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Seaside Skin Care and Protection from UV Rays

It is very important to always stay safe when outside in the sun. The sun can easily do a lot of damage to the skin, so it's essential for kids to protect themselves from ultraviolet rays. Ultraviolet rays are the harmful rays from the sun that cause sunburn and cancer. Wearing sunscreen and covering up exposed skin are the best ways to keep from getting sun damage. It's also important to stay away from products that contain certain harmful chemicals (such as chlorofluorocarbons, methyl bromide, halons, and methyl chloroform) because it destroys the ozone layer, which is the layer of gas that protects the surface of the Earth from UV rays.

What Is Ultraviolet Light?

The sun produces energy called electromagnetic radiation, which comes in many different wavelengths. Not all of the wavelengths are visible to people, but the ones that can be seen appear as a rainbow. The color depends on the length of the wavelength. For example, violet has the shortest wavelength and red has the longest. White light is formed when all of the colors are seen at once. Infrared light is formed when waves are longer than red, and ultraviolet light is created when waves are shorter than violet. Ultraviolet light also comes in different lengths, and each length is used for its own purpose. Short wave UV light is used to speed up chemical reactions, kill bacteria, and classify some fluorescent minerals. Short wave UV cannot pass through most plastics or glass, although long wave UV can penetrate those materials.

Humans cannot see UV light, although it is visible to some animals. Reptiles, birds, honeybees, and butterflies are some of the animals and insects that can see invisible light waves. This skill is useful because it helps them to see their food-bees and butterflies can easily find nectar, and birds can see traces of their prey's feces and urine. UV light also helps birds with migration and with finding fruit and seeds.

The Dangers of UV Light

Just because humans cannot see ultraviolet light does not mean it is harmless. It has many properties of regular sunlight-it can hurt the eyes, cause discoloration of fabrics, and cause sunburn. Only some of the UV light produced by the sun is absorbed by the ozone layer, the rest of it filters through to the Earth and can damage the skin. The most common ultraviolet wavelengths are called UVA and UVB. UVA light is always the same strength no matter the location or time of day, and it can penetrate most plastics and glass. UVB is much stronger in the summer between the hours of 10am and 2pm. It is strongest near the equator and cannot go through plastics and glass. 99% of the Earth's ultraviolet radiation is UVA because the ozone absorbs most of the sun's UVB rays.

Ultraviolet light can easily damage bare skin. When exposed to UV light, skin will usually either tan or burn. Either response is considered sun damage. Because UV wavelengths are so short, they are able to break down the chemical bonds of the skin. Long-term exposure may cause wrinkles or cancer.

The Ozone Layer

The ozone layer is a thin shield that protects the Earth from the sun's harmful UV rays. Scientists discovered in the 1980s that the ozone layer was breaking down, which allows more UV light to reach the Earth's surface. This means there is a greater chance for people to have skin damage from UV rays.

Ozone is a gas that is found in two layers of the atmosphere-the troposphere and the stratosphere. The troposphere is at the Earth's surface, where we breathe and live. The stratosphere is many miles above the surface. Ozone in the troposphere is bad because it causes "smog," which is dangerous to breathe. Ozone belongs in the stratosphere, where it absorbs harmful UV light and keeps us safe. It is usually found between six and thirty miles above the surface of the Earth.

Ozone depletion is caused by chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These have been used for refrigeration and personal products like soap and hairspray. The CFCs are carried into the stratosphere by winds and break apart the molecules that form the ozone layer. Each CFC can destroy up to 100,000 ozone molecules. Other harmful chemicals that destroy the ozone can be found in pesticides and fire extinguishers.

The United States and many other countries have agreed to a treaty called the Montreal Protocol. This will help to stop the production of harmful chemicals that destroy the ozone layer. If humans stop making these chemicals, scientists have predicted that the ozone will repair itself by 2065.

Staying Safe From UV Rays

There are many things that kids can do to stay safe from harmful UV rays. Sunscreen is the most important step. Always look for a sunscreen that is at least SPF 30 and protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Make sure to wear it everyday (not just when it's sunny!) because you can still get sunburned on cloudy days.

Remember to cover up with a t-shirt, and wear a wide brim hat if it's not too hot. Hats will protect the face, ears, neck, and the top of the head from getting too much sun. Sunglasses are also important for protecting the eyes. Look for sunglasses that block almost 100% of UVA and UVB rays.

Always remember the shadow rule: when your shadow is shorter than you, find shade! Lions use this trick in the jungle. The sun is strongest between 10am and 4pm so remember to play in a shady area when it gets too hot outside.