The sun is on its way as spring begins, but it’s not all BBQ’s and suntans! Sunshine contains potentially harmful UV rays, so let’s take a look at what they are, how they can affect the skin and how we can defend against them!

UV is part of the electromagnetic spectrum between 100-400nm (1nm is 1/1000000000 times the length of a meter, so that’s pretty small!) and can be split into UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC is the strongest and most dangerous UV ray but luckily for us it is absorbed by the ozone layer and doesn’t reach our skin. Small amounts of UV are essential for production of vitamin D, however prolonged exposure carries health risks.

UVA

A is for ageing.

Also known as ‘long-wave’ UV, UVA has a wavelength of 315-400nm. Although not as strong as UVB, it is 30-50 times more prevalent. UVA is able to penetrate deep into the skin, affecting the keratinocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis (that’s the innermost part of the outer layer of our skin),  and can pass through windows, lightweight clothing and car windshields. Prolonged exposure to UVA causes cracks and shrinking of the collagen and elastin within the skin leading to wrinkles and sun spots – classic signs of prematurely aged skin.

UVA is the main ray used in tanning beds. This is particularly concerning as  long-term exposure to high levels of UVA rays increases the risk of cancer. The rays penetrate the skin and damage the DNA in the skin cells, increasing the rate of genetic mutations (abnormal changes in our DNA) that can lead to cancerous cells and malignancies developing.

UVB

B is for burning

This ‘short wave’ UV makes up 280-315nm of the electromagnetic spectrum. Stronger than UVA, UVB is also linked to causes of skin cancer. It damages the superficial epidermal layers and causes sun burn. The levels of UVB are increased at higher altitudes and can be reflected from snow or ice (so take the sunscreen on that extravagant skiing getaway!).

As we’re officially into the start of summertime the sun’s rays will be picking up. UVB is at its highest during the summer months. Here’s how to protect against the sun’s rays.

SLIP on a shirt

SLOP on sun cream – but make sure your sun cream protects against both UVA and UVB, these are known as broad spectrum sun creams and contain board-spectrum sunscreens like titanium dioxide. Read more about this molecule in our Molecular Mondays article here!

SLAP on a hat

Just remember slip slop slap before you go out and enjoy the sun and you’ll be keeping your skin looking young, as well as decreasing your risk of developing skin cancer!