The following essay is part of a 5 part series to help you understand the sun and your interaction with it for optimal health. It is designed to empower you as a critical thinker and inspire you to practice sun smart habits. In this first part we will be learning all about UV rays and the UV index.

As with many things today, when it comes to understanding the sun, skin cancer or sunscreen, there is an abundance of misinformation, myths and incomplete stories, which govern people’s everyday choices. It is therefore vital to take an active role as discerning, health conscious consumers today and get properly informed where this topic is concerned. Our health depends on it, as well as that of our families and our environment.

We can do this by gathering information from multiple, credible sources and aligning it with our personal guidance system within. Our bodies possess innate intelligence and regularly communicate that with us, if we only listen and pay attention to their needs. It is equally important to stay up to date with the information presented as our rapidly changing information landscape today can shed a lot of new light on topics that were unclear in the past. And when it comes to the sun, a yearly review of safe, sun smart habits is a really good idea.

Therefore to help you achieve these goals, and get empowered where the topic of healthy sun exposure is concerned, I have put together this 5 part series that will address the main areas, which can further our understanding and provide a bigger picture perspective.

The five parts of this series will include:

Part 1 – Get to Know the UV index

Part 2 – Get to Know your Skin

Part 3 – Get to Know the Sun

Part 4 – Get to Know Sunscreen

Part 5 – Summary: Maximize the Benefits, Minimize the Risks

Get to know the UV Index

As part of every channel’s weather forecast we have available to us today the daily UV index. When the UV is low, you will usually not hear your local meteorologist announcing it, however when the UV goes higher it is part of every forecast whether it be online, on TV, on the radio, or in newspapers. You can always look up the daily UV index yourself if you do not hear or see it in your media of choice.

What is the UV Index?

UV stands for ultraviolet, referring to the radiation which is emitted by the sun. The UV index provides an internationally recognized scale to know how strong the sun’s radiation is on a particular day and in a particular area. It is highly dependent on season and geographical location.

The UV index was developed in 1992 by scientists in Canada and later by other countries like the US, through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Today an international scale is used that was approved by the World Health Organization. It measures the level of radiation in watts per meter squared.

The UV index allows you to get to know the potential strength of the sun that day and can be determined for any area worldwide, taking into account things like sea level, amount of ozone and cloud cover. It gives you the expected risk of overexposure to the sun that day.

How does the UV index work?

This is what the internationally recognized UV Index looks like today. It has numbers from 0 on up and is color coded for ease of use and quicker recognition. The numbers and colors are internationally consistent.

UV Index Description Sun Protection Actions

0 – 2


  • Minimal sun protection required for normal activity
  • Wear sunglasses on bright days. If outside for more than one hour, cover up and use sunscreen
  • Reflection of snow can nearly double UV strength. Wear sunglasses and apply sunscreen

3 – 5


  • Take precautions – cover up, wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen – especially if you will be outside for 30 minutes or more
  • Look for shade near midday when the sun is strongest

6 – 7


  • Protection required - UV damages the skin and can cause sunburn
  • Reduce time in the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and take full precautions – seek shade, cover up, wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen

8 – 10

Very High

  • Extra precautions required – unprotected skin will be damaged and can burn quickly
  • Avoid the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. and take full precautions – seek shade, cover up, wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen

11 +


  • Take full precautions. Unprotected skin will be damaged and can burn in minutes. Avoid the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., cover up, wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Values of 11 or more are very rare in Canada. However, the UV Index can reach 14 or more in the tropics and southern U.S.
  • White sand and other bright surfaces reflect UV and increase UV exposure

Why should I know the daily UV index?

Knowing the UV index can be very important as it can help us interact with the sun in the most optimal and healthy for us manner. We know for a fact that unchecked or excessive sun exposure can lead to various eye and skin damage. These may increase our risk for all sorts of serious problems like cataracts and cancers.

Therefore, if you are planning on being outside, specifically in the spring and summer months, you should be aware of the daily UV strength in your area. This way you can protect yourself and your family appropriatelym and consequently avoid any serious future problems.

Where can I find the UV index for my area?

For the United States, you can visit:

The EPA Sunwise Program and enter in your zip code to get your area

For Canada, you can visit:

The Weather Network and enter your province to get your area

Worldwide, you can visit:

UV Awareness and enter your geographical location

Challenges of the UV Index

While the UV index is generally considered a reputable health resource, it has its challenges and opposition. As more and more health experts and consumers wake up to the benefits and vital properties of the sun, they are beginning to question most of the health advice we are given when it comes to our interactions with the sun. Some see the UV index as nothing more but a fear tactic to get people to stay away from the sun, or buy into the sunscreen industry’s agenda.

Ultimately, the UV index is a tool, and as with any tool it is up to each person in terms of how they will choose to use it. It will become clear the deeper we go into this subject through this series, that understanding our health with respect to the sun is a complex matter dependent on numerous variables.

Continue onto Part 2 – Get to know Your Skin

Contents of 5 Part Sun Smart Series

Part 1 – Get to know the UV index

Part 2 – Get to know Your Skin

Part 3 – Get to know the Sun

Part 4 – Get to know Sunscreen

Part 5 – Summary: Maximize the Benefits, Minimize the Risks