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I’m a fanatic about protecting my skin from the sun. Did you know that ozone depletion also increases your risk for sunburn, skin cancer, and cataracts? Having a thinner ozone layer allows the sun’s harmful UV-B radiation to create a greater risk for developing these conditions. Until recently, I didn’t typically think of my skin care regimen when I hear about ozone depletion.
I’m not the only one who cares about protecting my skin. When I learned how ozone depletion can exacerbate my already easy to burn skin, I wanted to learn more. So I turned to expert geophysicist, Dr. Peter L. Ward, to learn more about how the ozone layer works. I wanted to know why its depletion matters for my skin care regimen. After all, how many blogs can you read where you’ll find beauty and anti-aging tips from an expert geophysicist?
Dr. Ward has written a new book on ozone depletion and other issues related to climate change. The book’s title is, What Really Causes Global Warming? Greenhouse Gases or Ozone Depletion? He is a fantastic resource for learning about not only the science behind these issues, but also how they can affect our daily lives in unexpected ways.
Let’s turn it over to Dr. Ward to learn how to protect our skin and eyes from ozone depletion.
Living Safely with Sunshine, a guest post by Dr. Peter Ward
Life on Earth is possible only because of a very delicate balance in the nature of sunshine. Infrared sunshine keeps us warm. Visible sunshine illuminates the world so that we can see. Ultraviolet sunshine, however, causes sunburn, skin cancer, and cataracts. Yet our skin requires a certain level of ultraviolet sunshine to produce vitamin-D, essential for reduction of inflammation and the proper growth of cells and bones.
Types of Ultraviolet radiation
Ultraviolet-C, the most damaging solar radiation, gets absorbed in the stratosphere, six to thirty miles above Earth. When ultraviolet-C is absorbed by oxygen molecules, they are broken apart into oxygen atoms, leading to the formation of ozone.
Ultraviolet-B is the next most damaging solar radiation. Ozone molecules absorb Ultraviolet B, breaking them apart back into oxygen atoms and oxygen molecules. The ozone layer, six to ten miles above Earth, forms an endless cycle where solar radiation continuously creates and destroys ozone so that an individual molecule of ozone lives for only about eight days.
When the ozone layer is depleted, more harmful UV-B rays get through increasing our risk for sunburn, skin cancer and cataracts.Click to tweet
When this endless cycle is interrupted by destruction of ozone caused by chlorine and bromine gases, the amount of ozone in the ozone layer is depleted. When the ozone layer is depleted, more ultraviolet-B than normal is measured to reach Earth, increasing your risk of sunburn, skin cancer, and cataracts.
What’s happened to the ozone layer?
From 1970 to 1998, the ozone layer was depleted by chlorofluorocarbon gases (CFC). These CFCs were manufactured for use as coolants, spray-can propellants, solvents, and such. These very stable gases transport chlorine atoms to the ozone layer where one tiny atom of chlorine can destroy more than one hundred thousand molecules of ozone.
When scientists discovered the Antarctic Ozone Hole in 1985, the United Nations passed the Montreal Protocol. This act mandated major cutbacks in the production of CFCs. The increase in ozone depletion stopped in 1995. The ozone layer remains depleted, however, and we expect the negative effects of these very stable CFC gases to continue for decades.
Ozone depletion allows more ultraviolet-B radiation to reach Earth, causing the global warming, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels observed since 1970.
The role of volcanic activity
In 2014, a little-known volcano in Iceland, Bardarbunga, extruded basaltic lava over an area of thirty-three square miles in only six months. This was the highest rate of eruption of basaltic lava since 1783. Basalts emit massive amounts of chlorine and bromine gases, leading to a very rapid increase in ozone depletion and recent rapid global warming. Large flows of basaltic lava are observed throughout human and Earth history to be contemporaneous with most known periods of global warming and the amount of warming is closely associated with the volume of basalts erupted.
4 tips to protect your skin and eyes from UV-B radiation coming through the ozone layer
Today, your risk of sunburn, skin cancer, and cataracts is higher than it was before 2014 and much higher than it was before 1970. Ultraviolet-B has enough energy to burn the upper-most layers of your skin. Use ultraviolet-B (UV-B) rated sunburn lotions liberally when spending long times in bright sunshine. Ultraviolet-B radiation also damages living cells and DNA, causing skin cancer and mutations.
The lenses in your eyes are designed to absorb UV-B before it can damage the rods and cones in your eyeballs. Long-term exposure to UV-B causes the lenses to become cloudy, which is what we call cataracts. Wear sunglasses when in bright sunlight and especially in the winter when sunlight is also being reflect upwards off snow.
Avoid long exposure to bright sunlight, but realize you require some sunlight for proper function of your body, for proper bone and cell growth, and for a robust immune system. Prehistoric humans, originating in the tropics of Africa, had dark skin to protect them from sunlight. As humans migrated towards the poles, their skin got lighter over thousands of years so that they could still produce adequate amounts of vitamin-D. Natives of the Arctic, on the other hand, obtain lots of vitamin-D from eating seals, so their skin remains darker.
Ozone depletion is greatest during mid to late winter as solar radiation returns to polar climates. Even at mid-latitudes, your risk of sunburn, skin cancer, and cataracts is higher in mid to late winter, but it is still significant at all times.
Your risk of sunburn, skin cancer and cataracts is higher in mid to late winter. #Sunprotection is a must.Click to tweet
We need sunshine, but too much sunshine can be a serious problem. Be wise. Routinely protect yourself.
About Dr. Peter L. Ward
Dr. Ward worked 27 years with the United States Geological Survey as research geophysicist, branch chief, and program manager. He helped develop and manage a major national research program and chaired a committee at the White House. Dr. Ward testified before Congress and worked on a committee for Vice President Gore. He has published more than 50 scientific papers, and won two national awards for explaining science to the general public. He retired in 1998, working intensely for the past decade trying to resolve several enigmatic observations related to climate change.
Ward’s analysis and theory are explained in detail on his website and in his new book “What Really Causes Global Warming? Greenhouse Gases or Ozone Depletion?”
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Whenever we’re discussing the effects of the sun on our skin, the topic of anti-aging often arises as well. Have you decided to embrace the aging process or fight it? Whatever you choose, just know that you don’t have to grow old gracefully if that’s not what you want.
To learn more about climate change, you’ll be interested to read this interview with former Vice President Al Gore, discussing the climate crisis and his latest documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.
Support evidence-based science and climate change initiatives? You may be interested to follow California Congressional Candidate, Jess Phoenix, Jess is a volcanologist with a passion for environmental issues.