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What are UV Rays?

Paulla Estes
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ultraviolet (UV) rays are invisible rays that are part of the energy that comes from the sun. UV rays can burn the eyes, hair, and skin if these parts of the body are not properly protected, or if they undergo too much exposure to the sun. Nevertheless, they are very useful in our ecosystem.

UV rays assist our bodies in making vitamin D, which strengthens bones and teeth and helps our bodies build immunities to such diseases as Rickets and colon cancer. They are also used to treat psoriasis; the rays slow the growth of skin cells, preventing the outbreak of the itchy patches for which psoriasis is known. They have various commercial uses as well, including sterilization and disinfection. Some animals, such as bees, can see in ultraviolet, which helps them to collect pollen from flowers.

In spite of all their positive uses, UV rays remain very harmful for anyone who spends a large amount of time in the sun without proper protection. The most common effect of exposure to them is sunburn. Sunburn causes blood to rush to the affected area as the body tries to cool the burn, and the damaged skin ultimately peels away. In addition to the burning pain on the skin, sunburn can ultimately cause skin cancer.

Skin cancer is often caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light, but it can occur even when there is no evidence of sunburn. Dark skinned people are just as susceptible as those with fair skin to the damage caused by UV rays. Eye damage caused by these rays first shows up as pain or temporary blindness and blurred vision, but over time, cataracts can develop. The UV index measures the intensity of UV radiation and gives people an idea of how long they may remain in the sun before damage is possible. An index of 1-3 means the possibility for UV damage is low, while and index of 8-10 means the possibility is high.

The best way to combat UV rays is with bodily protection. Always wear protective sunglasses and a hat to protect the eyes. A hat will also protect hair from UV damage, as well as the skin on the face and neck.

While the best protection for the skin is long, loose clothing, this is not always practical, so the next best option is a protective sunscreen. There are many types of sunscreen, but they all have a number indicating how protective they are. The higher the number, the more protection they provide. Always use sunscreen, even if you will only be in the sun for a few minutes. Be smart, cover up, use sunscreen and enjoy the sunshine!

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Paulla Estes
By Paulla Estes
Based in Maine, Paulla Estes is a freelance writer and website editor with a B.A. in English Literature from George Mason University. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Paulla appreciates the flexibility and consistency that comes with contributing to WiseGeek. She relishes the opportunity to continuously learn new things while crafting informative and engaging articles for readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon278987 — On Jul 10, 2012

For those confused on what sun protection to use, always use a broad spectrum 15 or higher. It protects you from UVA and UVB.

By anon228424 — On Nov 08, 2011

I have fair skin and I heard the higher the SPF the higher UVB protection, but the lower the UVA. Is that true? If so, which SPF is best for fair skins?

By anon145002 — On Jan 21, 2011

my doctors have told me to avoid the sun as i have discoid lupus (lupus of the skin). are there other sources of uvs that can affect my skin as well? thanks in advance for your response.

By anon107612 — On Aug 31, 2010

What is the effect of ultraviolet rays other than xrays on human body.

Please provide the remedy for these rays by Indian traditional method.

By anon104821 — On Aug 18, 2010

Man-made UV rays are found in black lights, UV lights, dental equipment, and many more things!

By anon102572 — On Aug 08, 2010

Sunscreen and sunblock aren't the same. Sunblock is stronger than sunscreen.

By anon83581 — On May 11, 2010

what about UV umbrellas? do they help you?

By anon74943 — On Apr 04, 2010

if you are wearing a wide brim hat with a white underneath you will get sunburned, especially if you are on the beach, because the sand will reflect the sunlight.

By anon67697 — On Feb 26, 2010

ultra violet rays are used to cure cancer disease it's a very good thing found by the doctors.

By anon59161 — On Jan 06, 2010

i think people should use sun block if they go to the beach.

By anon52091 — On Nov 11, 2009

Truly i think sunscreen helps your skin. Thanks.

By anon50688 — On Oct 30, 2009

For your eyes, wear polarized lenses with UVA and UVB protection. As well, sunscreen is a must even on cloudy days. Ultraviolet wavelengths can still reach you.

By anon49046 — On Oct 17, 2009

can anyone tell me in detail how uv rays are created by man?

By anon45158 — On Sep 14, 2009

what is the reason for incubating the UV-exposed cells in a dark environment?

By anon36128 — On Jul 10, 2009

What type of protection can be taken for eyes from uv rays...

By dlmaron — On Jul 08, 2009

Are UV rays multi-directional? Can I get a sunburn even if wearing a big hat on a sunny day?

By anon35879 — On Jul 08, 2009

I got a sunburn while wearing a solid hat- do UV rays travel only in straight lines, or are they all over?

By IndyDave — On Jun 24, 2009

This article refers to a scale of 1-10 for UV rays. The weather reports I see have a scale of 1-16. I understand the lower the better but what is considered low, mid, and high range.


By anon24524 — On Jan 13, 2009

very helpful...very dangerous. :|

By SunTint — On May 25, 2008

There are now excellent quality window films for homes & cars that deflect 98 to 100% u v rays. Some of these films have a Visible Light transmission of 70% so they are barely visible but block UV and IR rays. Anyone that is the least bit concerned about skin cancer or sun damage should seriously consider a better quality Ceramic or Museum Grade window film. Some trucking companies are required to tint the windows to protect the driver's skin and eyes from long term exposure to the sun.

By anon11304 — On Apr 13, 2008

Is it necessary to wear sunscreen in cloudy day and raining day? It seems that there is no UV rays in cloudy and raining day, isn't it?

By eastwest — On Apr 04, 2008

A lot of people don't realize how harmful UV rays can be for their eyes. Even people who wear sunscreen most days often forget to protect their eyes, but a lot of damage can occur if your eyes are not protected.

Paulla Estes
Paulla Estes
Based in Maine, Paulla Estes is a freelance writer and website editor with a B.A. in English Literature from George...
Learn more
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