Mr. Sun, Can You Chill? My Skin Is Not a Barbecue: Woes of UV Index Pittsburgh

Summer is knocking at the door, and so does another concern for the people of Pittsburgh – the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Pittsburgh’s geographical location, a valley that is nestled between the Appalachian Mountains, makes it an ideal destination for travelers looking to beat the summer heat. However, the same geographical location and terrain create environmental challenges that lead to high UV Index in Pittsburgh. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the factors that contribute to the high UV Index in Pittsburgh and effective measures to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

Pittsburgh: Summer Matters

Pittsburgh, famously known as Steel City, is a hub of industries and is highly concentrated in population. This city prides itself on diversity, nightlife, and the infectious excitement and energy palpable over summers. The city’s central location makes it easily accessible to a vast area in the country, making it a popular destination for travelers. Unfortunately, the same reasons that make Pittsburgh a go-to place also make its inhabitants and visitors susceptible to exposure to the sun’s harmful rays.

The Woes of UV Index Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s location between mountains, combined with polluted air, leads to an environment in which the UV Index peaks during summer months. The UV Index is a measurement of how powerful the sun’s UV rays are. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set the standard of the highest level of the UV Index to be 11. Still, Pittsburgh’s UV Index can reach up to 14 in the summer months. This high UV Index means that residents and visitors who are not adequately prepared can suffer from frequent sunburn, which in turn can increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

Understanding UV Index

As mentioned, the UV Index measures how powerful the UV rays are. This Index helps establish the precautions one must take before stepping outside on a sunny day. The UV Index is variable and can take on several factors such as:
– Time of day
– Height of the sun
– Atmospheric conditions
– Ozone Depletion
– Geographical Location

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The UV Index can range from 0 to 11+, with the higher end indicating a more substantial threat of developing skin damage.

The World Health Organization establishes UV Index value based on the following ranges:
| UV Index Value | Risk of harm | Skin Type |
| — | — | — |
| 0-2 | Low | All |
| 3-5 | Moderate | All |
| 6-7 | High | Light Skin |
| 8-10 | Very High | Light/Medium Skin |
| 11+ | Extreme | All Skin Types |

The skin type of the person exposed to these rays, combined with the time of exposure and the precaution taken, determines the vulnerability of an individual to damaging effects of the sun.

Factors Contributing to High UV Index in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s geographical location plays an enormous role in determining its high UV Index, but it is not the only factor. The following factors contribute significantly to this problem:

Ozone Depletion

The upper atmosphere from 10-50 kilometers above the earth’s surface contains a high percentage of ozone which absorbs a significant amount of the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB radiation. Because of atmospheric pollution caused by the use of ozone-depleting substances, the earth’s protective ozone layer has been severely damaged in many parts of the world. The ozone layer’s thinning has led to an increase in the intensity of UV radiation levels in the earth’s surface, including Pittsburgh.

Latitude & Altitude

Pittsburgh is located at a latitude of 40.4406° N and an altitude of 242 meters above sea level; this fact gets the city close to the earth’s atmosphere and closer to the sun. As a result, the UV Index in Pittsburgh is substantially higher than in other regions at sea level.


Building materials such as concrete, steel, and glass reflect UV rays. Pittsburgh structures are mainly made of these materials, and the city looks like a shiny, modern metropolis. However, this feature increases the UV Index as these materials reflect the UV rays in all directions, thereby increasing exposure.

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Time of day and Season

The hours between 10 am and 4 pm are the peak hours of the day. Therefore, if you are outside during these hours, you are more likely to get sunburned or suffer from other skin maladies because the sun is at its strongest. Also, the warmer months of the year have higher UV Index, making summer the most dangerous time of the year in Pittsburgh.

Impacts of High UV Index


Sunburn is the most apparent effect of overexposure to the harmful rays of the sun. Many people get sunburned during the summer months when skin is not adequately protected from the sun. Symptoms of sunburn include:
– Redness
– Swelling
– Blisters
– Headache
– Nausea

Skin Cancer

UV radiation is responsible for most skin cancer cases in the world. Overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays can cause basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, which are the most dangerous forms of skin cancer. Skin cancer is dangerous because it spreads very quickly.

Eye Damage

UV radiation not only harms the skin but also causes damage to the eyes. Overexposure to UV radiation can cause cataracts, eye cancers, and even blindness. UV radiation can also cause photokeratitis, which causes intense eye pain and temporary vision loss.

Action Plan

Fortunately, you can take several measures to reduce your risk of sunburn and skin cancer. Here are the top 5 actions you can take:

Wear Appropriate Clothing

Wearing appropriate clothing can reduce the risk of UV rays exposure. Wearing long-sleeve shirts, hats, and sunglasses are essential pieces of clothing that can reduce skin exposure to UV radiation. Clothing is considered the first barrier to UV rays; dark, tightly woven fabric provides the most protection as it blocks UV rays better than light or transparent clothing.

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Sunscreen Protection

Using SPF 30 or higher sunscreen can reduce the risk of sunburn and other radiation-related disorders significantly. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside; reapply after every two hours, and immediately after swimming or sweating.

Seek Shade

When outdoors, seek shade under trees or an umbrella. Shade can reduce the amount of UV radiation, allowing you to enjoy outdoor activities without overexposure to the sun’s rays.


The ideal time to go outside is between 7 am and 10 am when the UV Index is low, and the sky is relatively clear.

Be Mindful of Reflection

Reflection can increase the amount of UV radiation that comes in contact with the skin, so be mindful of surfaces that reflect the sun, such as water, snow, and building materials such as concrete and glass.


The high UV Index in Pittsburgh during the summer months, combined with a geographical and environmental condition, poses a significant challenge in skin protection. However, prevention is better than cure, and anyone can avoid or minimize the risks of sunburn and skin cancer by using the above-mentioned protective measures. By evaluating the factors contributing to high UV Index and the effects of overexposure to UV radiation, anyone can understand why sun protection is an essential step towards a healthier life.

So, when you next hear Mr. Sun saying, “Hello,” be sure to say, “Oh, no, Mr. Sun, can you chill? My skin is not a barbecue.”