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When we think about light, we typically think about the type of light we can see — visible light. But there is more to light than that. The light spectrum also includes microwaves, radio waves, x-rays, gamma rays, infrared light (heat), and ultraviolet light. Each type of light has a specific wavelength range.

When it comes to skin cancer, the type of light we most care about the most is ultraviolet radiation (UV), which is further broken down in UVB and UVA radiation. UVB directly causes DNA damage, redness, and sunburn and plays a role in vitamin synthesis. UVA indirectly damages DNA by inducing skin to generate free radicals while also causing tanning, pigmentation disorders, and premature aging. The number one risk for developing basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma is overexposure to these UV rays.

The good news is that we can protect ourselves from UV overexposure by using sunscreen, sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, protective clothing, seeking shade, avoiding sun exposure at mid-day when UV radiation is strongest, and avoiding indoor tanning. Aim for consistency, not perfection. Start by applying sunscreen as part of your regular morning routine. Sunscreens are designed to filter UV radiation, not block it entirely. For more protection, add a hat and sunglasses and other forms of sun protection according to your lifestyle and risk factors for UV overexposure.