Some people may not realise that we are exposed to UVA and UVB light every day. That means come the English rain or the rare sunshine, UV rays are damaging our skin. Excessive sun exposure ages our skin causing the structural protein collagen (which gives a plump youthful appearance to skin) to weaken and break down at a faster pace than normal, therefore more wrinkles occur and in time the skin will have a saggy, leathery look…very attractive. The sun also damages eyes, potentially leading to cataracts. Additionally it is thought that constant exposure to the sun can suppress the function of the immune system reducing the body’s ability to fight illness. Furthermore, over exposure to sun is the leading contributor to all types of skin cancer.
Let’s talk rays. UV stands for ultraviolet, there are 3 types of ultraviolet light; UVA, UVB and UVC, but good news for us, UVC is absorbed by the ozone layer so we don’t need to worry about it. However we do need to be aware and concerned about the long wave UVA and the short wave UVB because they do reach earth from the sun.
Although UVB is actually more damaging than UVA, it is far less present in the atmosphere. Due to UVA’s longer wave length it is able to penetrate deeper into the skin causing damage and ageing at the basal layer (deep under the skin’s surface where cancerous cells can develop). In fact UVA can penetrate clouds and glass, so don’t think you’re safe in that green house. UVA is also the dominant UV for tanning. You probably think a golden glow is ‘healthy’ but this is not necessarily true. When the skin tans or darkens it is trying to protect itself from the UV rays, as darker skin is better at preventing the harmful light reaching deeper layers of the dermas (skin). A tan is actually an injury to the skin’s DNA.
UVB is the ray that causes your skin to turn pink/red, it burns the superficial layers of the skin. Their ability to burn the skin is not the same all year round; they are weakest in the winter months and strongest in the summer months. Their strength also changes during the day, peaking at midday. So when people advise you to stay out of the sun during the heat of the day, it is the UVB you are trying to avoid. Though UVA can contribute to cancer, it is UVB that is largely to blame for most skin cancers.
What sunscreen to choose? There are so many factors from 2 to 100 and then there are creams, gels, oils and sprays. So how to do you know which one is right for you? Well, in terms of the type of application tests have shown that there is no difference in the effectiveness, it is simply a case of personal preference. The factor, however, does make a difference. Obviously the higher the factor the more protected you are, aim for at least factor 15 if you are dark skinned and 30 if you have fair skin, remember to reapply throughout the day, especially if you have been swimming.
To conclude we are not telling you to avoid sun like the plague because it provides vitamin D, a mood boost and wonderful summer memories. So the message of the article is to wear a high sun protectant factor all year round to avoid looking like a mahogany leather chair or even worse receiving the news that you have skin cancer due to your sun bed addiction.