Everyone’s always talking about UV rays and how bad they are and how you need a certain type of SPF to block out those rays. But what do all those acronyms mean? What are UV rays? Are they bad? And if UV rays are bad, how do you combat them? Well, let me tell ya!

Ultraviolet (UV) irradiation is present in sunlight. It is considered an environmental human carcinogen. The effects of UV rays on normal skin include: skin cancer, sunburn inflammation and hyper pigmentation (also known as sunspots). In addition, UV rays can also have a negative impact on the immune system.

UV falls into 3 categories:

1.) UVA– can penetrate glass, it oxidizes melanin (the brown stuff), that’s already present and triggers the release of more melanin in the skin. It has less energy than other UV rays, but penetrates deeply. Fortunately, it does not cause redness. However, UVA can generate chemical changes which can damage DNA. Because it does not cause reddening of the skin it cannot be measured in SPF testing.

2.) UVB– stimulates the body to produce more melanin and produce a “burn”. They are the most potent rays that reach the earth, and can produce skin cancer.

3.) UVC- These are the highest energy UV rays.  They have the shortest wave length and could be the most harmful to your skin and eyes. They should be completely absorbed by the ozone layer, however the earth’s protective shield is increasingly compromised.

So, what is a tan anyway? My kids used to taunt me by saying, “Mom, I’m going out to get some sun damage!”

A tan is the skin’s defense against UV radiation, the brown pigment (melanin) in the skin increases when exposed to moderate levels of radiation. In healthy skin with moderate exposure, Melanin absorbs UV radiation and dissipates the energy as harmless heat, blocking the damaging of skin tissue.

It is important that sunscreen block both UVA,UVB and UVC. A skincare professional can recommend a product; or you can take a few notes about ingredients to look for in a full spectrum block like: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide  (life guards wear it – it’s clear now) and avobenzone.

Here is one of my favorite sunscreens, especially for sensitive skin that react to the chemicals in sunscreens: Tu’el Oil Free Essential Protection SPF 30.

Most products contain an SPF rating to show how well they block UVB rays only. However they typically offer no data about UVA protection. In other words, that 80 SPF sunscreen you have sitting in your bathroom may or may not be working.  Since UVA rays don’t cause redness, there’s no way to tell if they’re damaging your skin.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering adding a star rating system to show UVA protection. (Note to the FDA: Hurry up already, it’s been promised for years!)

Everyday sunscreens should be at least SPF 15. If you’re going to be in the sun for prolonged periods, make sure it’s SPF 30, and remember to get one that is formulated to block the full spectrum of rays.

I recommend applying sunscreen to the entire body right after showering, and to the face after washing it. That way the product has time to soak in and take effect before going outside. It’s a good idea to slather on a second application when you hit the beach, or will be having prolonged exposure.

A white cotton shirt has a SPF of about 8, but if the shirt is tight and the weave stretched, it’s much less. If the shirt gets wet, fades or is several years old, its ability to protect against the sun is even more reduced. Did you know that dark colors absorb more UV rays (that’s a good thing), than light colors. That is why you are hotter in a black shirt than a white one.

Adding a hat and UV protective sunglasses to your sunscreen will help protect your face completely.

If all that wasn’t enough to convince you to slather on the sunscreen, here’s a few more fun (sun) facts:

  • One per cent of wrinkles are caused by ageing; 99 per cent are caused by the sun.
  • It only takes one severe burn during childhood to double the risk of skin cancer in adult life.
  • Using SPF 15 during the first 18 years of life lowers skin cancer odds by 80 percent.
  • An easy way to remember the difference between UVA + UVB rays: UVA = ageing, UVB= burning.

So remember – practice safe sun!

See you at the spa!

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