a man looking at a light bulb with a question mark in it

Man-Made Light and Ultraviolet Rays

I was driving through town the other day and while sitting at a traffic light I glanced left and there it was - a tanning salon. I hadn’t seen one in a while and I wondered how many were still in business. Based on what we know about skin cancer, ultraviolet rays (UV) and that tanning booths emit them, had they changed their business model? By the time I finished that thought, the stoplight had changed and I was off about my day.

Other sources of man-made light and ultraviolet rays

But what about other types of manmade lighting? Do they emit UV rays? Are they possibly dangerous? I dug into the Internet and did some research and here is what I found on the American Cancer Society webpage. Some of it surprised me.

Other man-made sources of UV rays that could possibly be dangerous include:1

  • Phototherapy (UV therapy): This is used to treat skin conditions like psoriasis. Typically a drug called psoralen is injected first, which collects under the skin and makes it more sensitive to UV light. Another treatment using UVB rays alone can be used when administering the drug.
  • Black light lamps: These give off mostly UVA rays while filtering out most of the visible light. This light is used in some fluorescent lamps and in bug zappers.
  • Mercury-vapor lamps: These are used to light large public areas, such as streets. If working properly (and not broken), they do not expose people to UV rays. They are made of two bulbs with the outer one filtering out ultraviolet rays emitted by the inner one.
  • High-pressure xenon lamps, xenon-mercury lamps, plasma torches, and welding arcs: These sources of ultraviolet rays are mostly found in workplace environments. Xenon and xenon-mercury lamps are used in the curing of inks and coatings.

Ultraviolet rays and the possible dangers

Are there additional sources of radiation dangerous? Based on conclusions from the National Toxicology Program (NTP, an interagency, governmental organization including the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration), it was determined that all sources of ultraviolet radiation (UVA, UVB, and UVC) are “reasonably anticipated” to be human carcinogens.1

Wear sunscreen every day

So, what does this to me? It means that I should be applying sunscreen daily whether I plan to be outside for an extended period or not. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation is cumulative both over time and in the ways, one is exposed. A person may be exposed during medical treatments or at work or under street lights. Ultraviolet rays may be emitted in a bedroom through black lamps or in the backyard via mosquito-control devices.1

Conclusion, be aware of ultraviolet rays

More research is needed to determine how dangerous each of these UV rays emitting devices really is. For me, the bigger point is that manmade light in its many forms may be harmful over time especially in conjunction with other sources of known dangerous radiation (such as the sun and tanning lamps). I need to be aware of my surroundings and continue to advocate for myself and others around me.

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