Even though we are well protected by the ozone layer we should all be aware of our exposure to UV radiation. You can help safeguard yourself and your family by...
Sunglasses are so much more than a fashion accessory or just for reducing the sun’s glare. The lenses that filter out ultraviolet (UV) rays help protect the eyelid, cornea, lens and retina. Sun damage to the eyes is imperceptible so taking preventative measures is crucial. But while dark lenses stop the glare, sunglasses without an adequate UV rating can cause more damage than not wearing sunglasses at all. When choosing sunglasses, they should have a rating of at least UV 400. This will block up to 99-100 percent of UV rays. So be prepared - if outdoors when the UV index is high, wear sunglasses with total UV protection and a wide brimmed hat to protect your eyes on bright days.
Too much sun causes damage to skin and eyes, but our skin also produces vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. When outdoors in the sun, use a sunscreen that provides good UV protection with a sun protection factor (SPF) rating of 30 or higher. Put on sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before going out in the sun. Remember to reapply regularly if continuously exposed to the sun, especially if you are swimming or sweating a lot – even if the sunscreen states it’s waterproof!
If the UV index is high, try to limit the time spent in direct sun try to avoid sunburn and wear a wide-brimmed hat and protective clothing. And if you are a parent, make sure you protect your child's skin. Overexposure to sunlight before age 18 is most damaging to the skin so start practicing safe sun habits and awareness from an early age.
Checking UV index
Pay attention to the ultraviolet (UV) index, an international standard measurement of the strength of sunburn-causing UV radiation at a particular place and time, which gives you an idea of how strong the UV light is in your area on any given day, on a scale from 1 to 11+.
A higher number means greater risk of exposure to UV rays and a higher chance of sunburn and skin damage that could ultimately lead to skin cancer. The UV Index is part of many weather forecasts.
Awareness of the UV index and the impact of exposure to UV radiation on our skin is key. Some people get a sunburn faster than others because of their colouring so be aware of what is ‘normal’ for you and how quickly your skin goes red. If you have blonde or red hair, light-coloured skin, and light-coloured eyes, you'll tend to get a sunburn more quickly than someone with dark eyes and skin. That's because you have less melanin, a chemical in the skin that protects it from sun damage by reflecting and absorbing UV rays.
Using your shadow to measure UV levels
An easy way to tell how much UV exposure you are getting is to look for your shadow. If your shadow is taller than you are (in the early morning and late afternoon), your UV exposure is likely to be lower. If your shadow is shorter than you are (around midday), you are being exposed to higher levels of UV radiation. Seek shade and protect your skin and eyes. Other factors to consider when assessing UV exposure include the season of the year: UV rays are stronger during spring and summer months, depending in your geographical location. This is less of a factor near the equator. UV exposure goes down as you get further from the equator but will increase at altitude because more UV rays reach the ground at higher elevations. It is also important to be mindful that UV rays can bounce off surfaces like water, sand, or snow. Lastly, UV rays can also reach below the water’s surface, so your skin can still get sun damaged even if under water and feeling cool.
Take care of your appliances to minimize ozone layer impact
The success of the Montreal Protocol means that 99 per cent of the ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) are now controlled. But older refrigerators, freezers or air-conditioning units may still contain ozone-depleting substances that were produced before controls were put in place. By using refrigerators, air conditioners and other equipment responsibly you would assist in protecting the ozone layer and climate too.
- Dispose of appliances and equipment with refrigerants responsibly. When you buy a new appliance such as a refrigerator, look for products that are labeled ‘ozone friendly’ or ‘HCFC free’ or have an energy efficiency label. Dispose your old refrigerator by taking it to a qualified and certified expert, as refrigerators and freezers contain refrigerants that must be removed and recovered before other parts are recycled.
- Set the thermostat of your refrigerator and freezer at the right temperature by avoiding too low temperatures. A warmer setting of your air conditioner thermostat will also save energy. Switch equipment off when not in use as even a standby mode consumes energy.
- Cooling systems depend on good airflow through their heat exchange panels (evaporators and condensers). Mount your refrigerator so that air can easily circulate at the back and do not put the refrigerator freezer next to an oven or dishwasher.
- Clean the refrigerator regularly at the back where the condenser is located and de-ice the freezer regularly.
- Put only necessary things in your freezer, remove items that have been there for months. Take frozen food out of the freezer early and let it melt in the refrigerator.
About air conditioners:
- Get the right size. If you are buying a new system, make sure to get the size that's right for your needs.
- Mount the air conditioner condenser in the shadow outside. Use blinds if there is too much sun influx that needs to be cooled away and clean your condenser and evaporator regularly.
- Keep rooms cool at night with ventilation, without air-conditioning if possible. But if you need extra cooling, consider turning the temperature up - when you're sleeping, you probably don't need the air conditioner set as cold as you might think, and also remember that a higher setting of your air conditioner’s thermostat saves a lot of energy.
- Incorporate fans. Using fans can reduce your need for extra cooling.
- Switch your car air conditioner on after you have been driving for a few minutes with windows open and park your car in the shadow.
About appliances in general:
- When buying new equipment, look for ‘ozone friendly’, ‘HCFC free’ or ‘energy efficient’. Remember: if it is energy efficient, it will not only help save the environment but will also reduce your energy bills!
- Regularly service older equipment (not CFC free) as their malfunctions cause CFC to escape into the atmosphere. When your equipment needs to be serviced, ask for trained, qualified and certified experts to ensure the equipment is properly repaired and carrier gases are recycled.
- Insulate your walls, doors and windows properly for improved energy efficiency and prolonged life of your equipment.
- Have your car and home air conditioner and refrigerator checked for leaks. When possible, leaky units should be repaired before being refilled.