Public Health Messages Associated with Low UV Index Values Need Reconsideration

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Lehmann, Maria
Pfahlberg, Annette B.
Sandmann, Henner
Uter, Wolfgang
Gefeller, Olaf

Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the main modifiable risk factor for skin cancer. The Global Solar Ultraviolet Index (UVI) was introduced as a tool to visualize the intensity of UV radiation on a certain day, which should enable and encourage people to take appropriate protective measures. The ‘low’ exposure category of the UVI, defined by a rounded UVI value of 0, 1 or 2, was linked to the health message ‘No protection required’ by the World Health Organization and partner organizations. However, published evidence corroborating this advice is not available. To evaluate the erythemal risk of low UVI days, we analyzed 14,431 daily time series of ambient erythemal irradiance data measured at nine stations of the German solar UV monitoring network during the years 2007–2016. We analyzed the proportion of days in the sample for which ambient erythemal doses calculated for various time intervals exceed average minimal erythemal doses (MEDs) of the Fitzpatrick skin phototypes I–VI to assess the potential for erythema arising from sun exposure on days with low UVI values. Additionally, we calculated for each day the minimum exposure duration needed to receive one MED. Our results indicate that on days with a UVI value of 0, risk of erythema is indeed negligible. Conversely, the abovementioned health message appears misleading when melano-compromised individuals (skin type I and II) spend more than 1.5 hours outdoors on days with a UVI value of 2. Under rare circumstances of prolonged exposure, MEDs of the two most sensitive skin types can also be exceeded even on days with a UVI value of 1. Hence, current WHO guidance for sun protection on days with low UVI values needs reconsideration.

Journal Title
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 16.12 (2019).

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