UV Penetration

Protecting Against UV Damage

Written By: John Linden

We’re all exposed to ultraviolet rays (UV rays) or ultraviolet radiation every time we stand in the sunlight. While natural UV rays are the most common, some people are also exposed to artificially made UV radiation, such as that created by tanning beds. UV light is categorized on the UV Index, which determines the strength of the UV radiation hitting an object and what kind of damage it’s capable of. Light less than a 3.0 on the scale is low risk, for example, while light that measures over an 8 is rated as a very high risk and should be avoided if possible.

Of course, it’s bad to avoid all sunlight. Being in the sun is necessary for the body to transform a chemical into vitamin D, for example, plus the sun’s energy can be harnessed for clean power. However, there are dangers to being exposed to too much sunlight. While UV rays make up only a small fraction of the overall sunlight, they’re responsible for damaging the body, outdoor furniture, cars, and anything else left in the sunlight for too long. Here are a few different ways UV rays are harmful and some ideas on how to protect against them.

  • What is UV? - Another look at UV, including discussion of how cloudy days aren’t UV free

  • UV Radiation - the fact sheet from the US Environmental Protection Agency

Negative Effects of UV Radiation

There are a number of different ways that UV radiation can harm humans, and the more sunlight you’re exposed to, the worse these harmful effects can be. That’s why people who work outdoors or who live in places that get a lot of sunlight throughout the year are encouraged to take precautions. Here are a few ways the sun can damage the body:

  • Direct exposure to UV radiation can lead to the development of skin cancer.

  • Frequent sunburns, especially while young, can increase the chances of developing skin cancer later on in life.

  • Long-term exposure can cause premature aging, including an increase in wrinkles and age spots, a decrease in the elasticity of the skin, and other changes in the texture and look of the skin.

  • UV radiation can increase your chance of developing cataracts.

  • The immune system can be damaged by UV radiation, leading to an increased chance of getting sick and making it harder to fight off infections.

  • UV radiation can damage the protein in hair, leading to hair loss and color change.

Fortunately, only a small amount of the UV radiation in sunlight actually makes it to the surface of the Earth thanks to the ozone layer. Unfortunately, as the ozone layer changes due to our use of things that damage it, more and more harmful UV rays will get through, leading to an increase in skin cancer, cataracts, and more.

Of course, sunlight and UV rays affect more than just humans—they affect everything they touch. Colors will slowly start to fade the longer they’re under UV radiation, especially if the object is under direct light for long periods of time every day. This can even start to affect your shiny new car! You’ll start to notice how its dazzling colors aren’t quite as dazzling after a few years of parking it under the hot sun every day.

UV radiation can also start to break down a number of different synthetic and even natural materials. That’s why plastic items that are left out in the sun too long become brittle and break more easily. Even fabric isn’t immune—it goes through a process called phototendering if exposed to large amounts of UV radiation, causing the fabric to lose its flexibility and strength.

  • Phototendering - A description of how fibers and textiles are damaged by UV rays

Protecting Against Harmful UV Rays

Fortunately, there are a number of things we can do to protect ourselves and our prized possessions from UV rays. The first and easiest thing to do is to avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight if possible. Stay in the shade whenever you can, or if you can’t, wear a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, a hat, and sunglasses. Don’t forget to make sure the back of your neck is covered! Also wear sunscreen—doctors recommend an SPF of at least 30, especially for children.

Protecting objects can be a bit more difficult. For smaller things, simply move them out of the sunlight whenever possible, especially if they’re made out of plastic. For other objects such as children’s play sets and outdoor furniture, apply a layer of weatherproofing to it once a year. This will help protect it from UV radiation as well as water.

If you’re worried about your car, boat, or other vehicle, park them in your garage whenever possible. If you can’t, get a good car cover and use it regularly. It may seem like a hassle, but it really doesn’t take very long to put the car cover on, and you’ll be glad you did once you see that your paint job is still as shiny as the day you drove it off the lot!


While we all love the feel of warm sunlight on our skin while we’re outdoors and need the sun to survive, too much sunlight is dangerous. If you’re outdoors often, keep in mind that you need to protect yourself from harmful UV radiation. You’ll also want to keep your cars and other possessions protected from the damage direct sunlight can do by using custom outdoor car covers and other protective items.