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Can UV Sanitization Lighting Damage Skin?

In lieu of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, many households and businesses are contemplating the use of UV sanitization methods to help stay safe from the virus. Although there are varying opinions regarding the safety of this kind of lighting, there is a promising ray of light that could be the solution to the problem of viruses.

What Does UV Sanitization Mean?

Ultraviolet rays are streams of energy that come from the sun that can not be seen by the naked eye. The scientific definition of ultraviolet rays is that they are rays of electromagnetic radiation. Since light is made up of particles or waves, depending on the situation, the very presence of light can be destructive…or not. However, when we are talking about the UV rays that emanate from the sun, the potential for tissue damage and other destructive possibilities linger near with each second that you are exposed.

When disinfecting, or sanitizing an area or substance with ultraviolet light the goal is to eliminate viruses and pathogens by rendering them unable to reproduce. Sanitizing an area with UV light is simply flooding that area with ultraviolet light rays long enough to inactivate any pathogens that are present in the vicinity.

In most cases an area, or a surface that is covered in ultraviolet light, specifically UVC rays, will be considered sanitized and rendered safe from the infection of viruses. To sanitize a surface by way of ultraviolet rays, means to expose it to UVC lighting.

How Does Ultraviolet Light Work?

There are basically three types of ultraviolet rays that the sun creates and sends out from itself. There are UVA rays, UVB rays, and UVC rays. Each type of ray has its own characteristics that distinguish them from the other types of rays.

Ultraviolet rays are merely electromagnetic radiation particles that move towards us through the power of the sun. Each type of ray carries its own amount of energy, and size of wavelength. Each type of ray has its own degree of destructive power towards human tissue.

UVA rays are the rays that we come into the most contact with. They have a lower energy level but have a longer wavelength. 95% of those rays that come from the sun are filtered out by the Earth’s ozone layer. What this means is that we only experience 5% of the UVA rays that travel towards our planet throughout the entire time the sun is exposed to the earth.

In any event, ultraviolet rays have the potential to damage our skin, and eyes. The UVA rays only scratch the surface of the skin when they reach us. The end result is sunburn and various types of skin cancers.

UVB Rays

UVB rays have a little more energy than UVA rays, which means that they have a shorter wavelength. Ultimately, a very small percentage of the amount of these rays that stream from the sun reach the crust of the Earth. Even a tiny amount of this type of ray can cause big damage to the skin.

UVB rays penetrate the skin deeper than UVA rays. Where UVA rays only touch the surface of the skin, the UVB rays can penetrate into the middle section of the dermis, known as the epidermis. The deeper the rays penetrate, the more damage they can cause.

UVB rays are the ones that cause malignant skin cancer and serious sunburns, so it is best to be cautious and protect skin with sunscreen or clothing.
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Far UVC Rays

UVC rays are the rays that we have been using to sanitize rooms and surfaces. UVC rays carry the most energy of all of the types of UV rays. They pack a powerful punch but have a shorter wavelength. However, they do have a long enough wavelength to cause significant damage to the skin and the eyes.

One interesting factor in regards to UVC rays is that they do not penetrate the Earth’s ozone layer and can not reach the Earth’s crust. In fact, the only way that humans can experience UVC rays at this time is if they are created artificially. Developers have been able to create lightbulbs that mimic the exact far UVC rays that come from the sun, and use that light to help and fight the war against deadly viruses.

Viruses and Germs In the Atmosphere

As a rule, viruses and germs are only in the atmosphere when we breathe out vapors or droplets from within us if we are infected with a virus, or have germs that can spread within us. The reason why the CDC is suggesting that we wear masks while we are indoors is so that if we are infected with COVID-19 that the vapors that we breathe out will be caught in the masks and not travel out into the air where they can be breathed in by others, or fall onto surfaces where others touch.

The ultraviolet lighting concept will be a lighting solution that is constructed into a room where people will be congregating. If an infected person breathes out the virus, in theory, the lighting will ultimately render the virus inactive as soon as it comes into contact with it. Therefore the ultraviolet rays will have the power to essentially cleanse the room of all potentially threatening virus pathogens.

Viruses and Germs on Surfaces

Viruses and germs are present mostly on surfaces where people touch with their hands or rest their arms. The most popular way that viruses and colds are passed around is through touch. When a person that is infected touches a surface, breathes on the surface or coughs there a little bit of the virus will be on that surface.

The ultraviolet light that emanates from the lighting apparatus will essentially render the virus inactive and unable to cause any harm.

The level of effectiveness will depend on the intensity of the light. The ideal wavelength for UVC lighting in a setting where there are people present is 222 nm. However, the general wavelength for this type of UV light is 254. The difference is the depth at which the light penetrates the skin and eyes. With a length of 254 nm, the light will cause damage to people that are exposed to it. It will damage both the skin and the eyes. However, if the wavelength is dropped down to 222 nm the light will gently brush the surface of the skin and only affect what is on top.

The safest way to cleanse a room with ultraviolet rays is if there are no people in it.

Skin Damage From Ultraviolet Rays

We discussed earlier that ultraviolet rays are actually electromagnetic radiation that emanates from the sun. The sun’s rays are reasonably safe if we do not over-expose our skin to them. Anybody that has sat out too long in the sun has experienced the misery of sunburn. After a while, the sun’s rays can become dangerous for tissue. Especially when it comes to the eyes. If we open our eyes and allow sunlight to directly come into contact with our corneas for even a split second, we feel it.

So, the answer is yes. UV sanitization lighting has the potential to damage skin and eye tissue. Although the far UVC 222 nm lighting that is becoming more popular seems promising, you have to be careful to purchase the equipment from a trustworthy, and dependable source…otherwise, you could end up with lighting that will potentially cause harm to you and the people that are exposed to it.