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Sun Awareness Week – May 1-7, 2023

Sun Awareness Week takes place in the first week of May and takes place from May 1 to 7 this year. It’s going to be a bright, sunny week this year and that is what makes this holiday important. It signals the start of the summer-long Sun Awareness Campaign. This national awareness campaign originated in the United Kingdom and centers around teaching people about skin cancer, as well as informing them about how to increase their protection when they step out into the sun.

History of Sun Awareness Week

Since ancient times, the world has understood that the sun provides warmth, life, and vitality. The reasoning behind how this happens differs as per the region and customs of various cultures and is often steeped in mythology. Ancient cultures, from the Egyptians, to the Aztecs, to the American Indians, worshiped the sun.

By the 17th century, scientific understanding began to take over, and two centuries later, people understood that sunlight was not simply based on one source, but was a collection of multiple sources beaming at different wavelengths.

The discovery of ultraviolet light is attributed to a German physicist, Johann Wilhelm Ritter, who noticed that the invisible rays in the spectrum of lights at the violet end were very effective at darkening silver chloride-soaked paper.

So far, the sun has been a source of health, with heliotherapy being practiced for almost 2,400 years. The earliest indication that sunlight might not be that good for your health in the long term occurred during smallpox outbreaks. While scientific evidence did not support this theory (yet), by the 1300s, it was well-known that smallpox treatment required patients (and windows) to be covered with scarlet blankets. As time went by, more and more scientists reported adverse reactions to U.V. rays. By the end of the 19th century, studies were published that proved people working outdoors were more prone to skin cancer.

Still, the fact that sunlight could be harmful was not fully explored until the latter part of the 20th century. By the end of the 20th century, direct sunlight was considered to be a health risk. The contributions of various chemists, biologists, and physicists have led the world to realize that the sun has both harmful and beneficial effects, depending on the exposure to sunlight. The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) ran a national campaign on skin cancer each year — from April to September — called Sun Awareness, and National Sun Awareness Week is a part of it. This campaign is two-pronged — it encourages people to self-test for skin cancer and educates people on the dangers of sunburn and excessive fake tanning.

Sun Awareness Week timeline

400 B.C.
An Event of Scientific Importance

Ionian philosopher Anaxagoras suggests the sun is a big fiery rock rather than a deity; he is put on trial and punished for his blasphemy.

1832
Sunlight Can Harm Too

J. M. W. Picton, M. D., documents the detrimental effects of sunlight on smallpox patients in his paper ‘Traitement de la variole par l'exclusion de la lumière,’ and states that soldiers confined to dark dungeons recovered without scarring.

1992
A Big Weather Moment

Three Canadian scientists, James B. Kerr, C. Thomas McElroy, and David I. Wardle, invent the modern U.V. index, which is launched as a part of Environment Canada's weather forecast.

1994
Global U.V. Index

The World Health Organization (WHO), the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (I.C.N.I.R.P), and World Meteorological Organization create a global U.V. index, replacing all regional versions.

2006
Studying Sunscreen

A 2006 experiment shows sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours to prevent U.V. light from penetrating our skin.

Sun Awareness Week FAQs

Is melanoma caused by the sun?

The exact cause of all melanomas isn’t clear, but exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds increases your risk of developing melanoma. Limiting your exposure to U.V. radiation can help reduce your risk of melanoma.

What is UV Safety Month?

UV Safety Month is celebrated in July, but caution is to be taken year-round.

How can we become sun safe?

Sun safety means wearing sunscreen of S.P.F. 30 or higher, putting on sunglasses while in the sun, covering up, staying hydrated, and keeping to the shade as much as possible.

How to Observe Sun Awareness Week

  1. Remember basic safety guidelines

    Simple preventive measures like wearing sunscreen (with a U.P.F. rating of 40 to 50), covering up, using sunglasses, and staying hydrated go a long way towards being safe.

  2. Participate in virtual activities

    The Canadian Dermatology Association and various other dermatology communities often boost awareness through various online activities. Join their communities online or visit their social media channels for details.

  3. Spread the word

    Share sun-safety tips, myths, and the dangers of over-exposure with friends and family. The more knowledge you spread, the better chance of people being safe from skin problems.

5 Important Facts About Sun Exposure Myths

  1. Sun damage only occurs in summer

    Sun damage is caused by U.V. rays, not temperature, therefore, skin can be affected even on windy and cloudy days.

  2. Darker-skinned people don't need sunscreen

    U.V. exposure causes permanent skin damage, regardless of skin type and color.

  3. You can't burn through glass

    Untinted glass reduces the effect of sunlight but does not completely stop it; skin can still be affected after prolonged exposure next to such glass.

  4. More sun exposure = less vitamin D deficiency

    Research says the higher the U.V. levels, the less sun exposure people need to improve vitamin D in the body; a few minutes in the sun is usually enough.

  5. Fake tans can replace sunscreen

    Fake tan lotions might have S.P.F., but they cannot be relied upon for continuous protection; dermatologists recommend using sunscreen below these lotions and reapplying every two hours for better protection.

Why Sun Awareness Week is Important

  1. It's the perfect time for this event

    The weather is improving, and the temperature increases in many parts of the world when this week is celebrated. Since many of us intend to enjoy the sunshine, learning what to do (and what not to do) at the right time is extremely important.

  2. We can keep everyone sun safe

    It's not only time-bound. Our awareness of sun safety can influence others’ thoughts too, protecting more people from skin problems.

  3. We learn to enjoy our sunshine properly

    We can bask in the warmth of that golden globe far above our heads while not being worried about what it will do to our skin. We know how to protect ourselves.

Sun Awareness Week dates

YearDateDay
2023May 1Monday
2024May 6Monday
2025May 5Monday
2026May 4Monday
2027May 3Monday
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