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Published on August 10, 2022

How to Read the UV Index and Why it Matters

family on sunny beach

By Cody Miller, EvergreenHealth Staff Writer

UV radiation is the leading cause of skin cancer and can affect everyone. The ultraviolet index, or the UV index, is often included in the daily forecast whether you get it from your local news station or from your phone.

If you don't know what the oftentimes single digit is supposed to mean, you probably overlook it like many of us.

However, the UV index is arguably just as important than the temperature or the chance of rain because it tells us the level of ultraviolet radiation we can expect from the sun.

The index ranges from 1-11+, which represent how extreme the UV radiation is. The UV index is categorized with colors based on intensity:

  • Green: For numbers 1-2 and means radiation is low
  • Yellow: For numbers 3-5 and means the radiation is moderate
  • Orange: For numbers 6-7 and means the radiation is high
  • Red: For numbers 8-10 and means the radiation is very high
  • Purple: For numbers 11 and up and means the radiation is extreme

As the UV index goes higher, the greater potential there is for skin and eye damage and the less time it takes for those things to occur.

Why is the UV Index Important?

The index is the easiest way for everyone to gauge how dangerous the sun's rays are at any given time. This is especially important for fair-skinned individuals who are more likely to experience a sunburn.

While fair-skinned individuals are more likely to experience sunburns, sun protection is important for everyone. If you're unsure on which sunscreen to grab, check out our guide.

Here are some recommendations for outdoor activity from the World Health Organization:

  • UV Index 0-2: You can safely enjoy being outside during the day.
  • UV Index 3-7: During the midday hours, seek shade and make sure to put on sunscreen.
  • UV Index 8-11+: Go inside during the midday hours and seek shade if you're outside. Apply sunscreen and consider wearing a hat.

No matter what the UV index is on the day of your outdoor adventure, proper sunscreen application is vital. Check out Fact vs. Fiction: Sunscreen Edition!

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