In the upper atmosphere, about 6 to 30 miles above Earth, naturally occurring ozone protects life from the sun’s ultraviolet B radiation (UVB). This is known as the stratospheric ozone. Over decades, it has been damaged by cumulative pollutants including motor vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, chemical solvents as well as natural sources. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), nontoxic, nonflammable chemicals containing atoms of carbon, chlorine, and fluorine, which were once used as refrigerants and in spray cans, have been pinned as the main culprit. Over the past 20 years, a significantly depleted layer of ozone known as the ozone hole has formed over the Antarctic. This ozone loss imposes a serious health threat for humans, in particular our skin and eyes.
“The more damage there is to the ozone layer, the more UVB rays that reach our bodies,” claims Dr. Herman and Dr. Newman, atmospheric physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Both UVB rays and UVA rays cause DNA damage in the skin that can lead to skin cancer, premature skin aging, cataracts and other eye conditions. Exposure over time can also weaken the immune system. The good news is that world political and environmental leaders are working together to address this issue.
Since 1987, over 150 nations have gradually signed the Montreal Protocol, which now prohibits the production of ozone-depleting CFCs. After over two decades of international collaborations to restore Earth’s sun protective layer, studies are showing a gradual decrease in harmful CFC levels in the atmosphere. Presently, the ozone hole is no longer expanding and evidence suggests it’s on the mend. According to Dr. Herman and Dr. Newman, scientists currently estimate that stratospheric ozone levels in the northern mid-latitudes will recover by 2050 and polar levels by 2065, which could significantly reduce the incidence of ultraviolet radiation exposure health related issues for future generations.
It will take time for the stratospheric ozone to recover. Luckily, we have options to protect our skin, eyes and health by taking a holistic approach to sun protection starting today. SunAWARE’s advice: First, avoid unprotected UV exposure and seek shade when possible. Keep in mind that UV doesn’t flow in one direction. It is able to bounce off surfaces, molecules and particles, so even when you’re under an umbrella, UV can still reach you. Second, wear sun protective clothing, wide-brim sun hats and UV sunglasses. These items are your best defense to keep UV from penetrating your skin and eyes. Next, apply SPF 30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen everywhere clothing doesn’t cover. This practice should be included into your daily regimen in order to decrease the repercussions of cumulative UV skin damage. Finally, routinely check your skin for suspicious changes and see a dermatologist if you notice anything. Pass on this wisdom and educate others about the need for sun protection.