The rays of the sun can be dangerous!
Do you know what the ozone layer is? It's a layer of air high above us in the stratosphere. This layer contains ozone molecules; each made up of 3 atoms of oxygen. The ozone layer is very important to all living things, because it blocks many of the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays before they reach the Earth.
So who's afraid of the big bad UV rays?
YOU should be! Or at least you should be careful. Scientists now say that too much exposure to the sun before age 18 can cause big problems. UV rays can cause premature aging (yuck - wrinkles!), skin cancer, eye cataracts, and may even cause problems with your immune system! The good news is that you can protect yourself from UV rays and prevent this from happening.
If the ozone layer filters out UV rays, what's the problem?
The ozone layer is getting thinner. Chemicals released into the air are breaking down the molecules of ozone faster than new ozone can form. This breakdown has caused "holes" in the ozone layer, and these holes allow the UV rays to come through. If you want to know more about how this happens, follow this link. You can check the "UV Index" each day to see how risky it is to be outside without protection from the sun. Read on.
The UV Index is a set of numbers that scientists use to predict the UV levels on a given day. The number given is the prediction of the UV levels at noon when the UV levels are highest (if it's sunny). Higher numbers mean more risk of sun damage to your skin. Low risk numbers are 1-2, moderate risk numbers are 3-5, high risk numbers are 6-7, very high risk numbers are 8-10 and extreme risk is 11 and above.
The risk of damage to your skin also depends on your skin type. If your skin is dark, you have more natural protection against the sun's rays than a person who has lighter skin. But, it doesn't mean you should ignore the risks of overexposure to the sun. You still need to protect your skin and eyes.
You can check out the daily UV index for where you live by visiting the Environmental Protection Agency's UV Index page. (Leaves EEK!)