24.4.14

UVA & UVB Rays: What Are They & How Can We Protect Ourselves?

Spring has sprung, the sun is shining and boy does it feel great! The sun is fantastic at releasing oxytocin (the happy hormone) and giving us a great boost of Vitamin D, but what dangers come with exposing ourselves to sunlight? What are the hidden factors that we should be aware of that aren't so well known? Sun care is a complicated business, and the one element of beauty that confuses us the most. LBQ filmed a video with the Pixiwoo sisters last summer, outlining the key issues we should be aware of and discussing products (have a look here,) but taking that one step further, what are UVA and UVB rays and how can we ensure we're protected?


UVA stands for 'Ultra Violet A' - these rays are responsible for ageing the skin. Once they penetrate into the skin's surface, they attack free radicals (such as Vitamin A & E) and zap our hydration levels. They also destroy the natural collagen and elastin fibres found in the deeper layers of the skin, which results in dreaded wrinkles and creases over a longer period of time. Too much exposure to this ray will result in premature ageing: something none of us want.

The major difference between UVA & UVB rays is you are constantly exposed to UVA  through any light source - be it your laptop screen, the lights in your home, the light from your iPad... You're at constant war with these invisible rays. This is why health experts preach the importance of wearing SPF all year round (not just when it's sunny or your on holiday,) so that your skin is always protected.

UVB stands for 'Ultra Violet B' - these are the super nasty rays that burn. Once these penetrate into the skin's surface they attack melanocytes, our natural cells that give our skin pigment. Once the attack of melonacytes starts, you are at a higher risk of skin cancer. When these cells are under attack they become damaged and start to become abnormal; thus skin cancer forms. So, how can we protect ourselves from these harmful rays? By using SPF.

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor (a technical and scientific measure of the effectiveness of the sunscreen) and is measured between 5 and 50, sometimes higher. The higher the SPF, the higher the protection on the skin from damaging UVA and UVB rays. In the simplest of terms, SPF is the amount of UV radiation required to cause sunburn on skin with the sunscreen on, as a multiple of the amount required without the sunscreen.

There's a common calculation that if you're wearing SPF 30 and normally burn after 15 minutes, that the sunscreen would therefore allow you to sit in the sun for over 7 hours (30 x 15 minutes.) However, the major flaw in this is that the intensity of the sun's rays varies throughout the day, so there's no guarantee how long the SPF will remain effective; it's always better to be safe than sorry and re-apply!

When it comes to sun protection, wearing a good SPF is really the only way forward - or staying out of the sun completely. Skin cancer is continually on the rise, and has been for the last 20 years; as we've become obsessed with tanning as a way of making ourselves look more 'beautiful', sun damage is present on 3 out of 5 people in the UK alone. More people than ever are using sunbeds (despite the evidence supporting the negative affects they have on our body,) and there's always an excuse why we're not wearing SPF.

If you want to look after your skin and protect yourself against sun damage, an SPF should be incorporated into your everyday skincare regime. Wearing an SPF all year round will result in your skin being protected from the damage UVA and UVB can cause. (Remember UVA is penetrated from any light source, be it your laptop, TV, mobile phone, or iPad - you want to be protected at all times.) There are now plenty of light and wearable options, including Piz Buin's newest Ultra Light Touch innovation, so there's no excuse for not being protected.

Do you wear SPF all year round? Do you have a favourite product to use?

Written by Amy Bambrick
@amys_loves
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