The ABC’s of Ultraviolet Radiation

Most of us feel happier being outdoors, in the sunshine. The sun provides us with light and warmth and releases the feel-good chemicals in our brains! The sun also provides us with healthy doses of vitamin D – an essential for healthy hair, skin, bones & mood! On the flip side of this are the existence of damaging rays that can leave us with blistering sunburns, premature aging, skin cancer & more.

Awareness is the first step in sun protection and understanding the difference in UV Rays. Understanding how these rays affect us is equally important so that you can make the healthiest choices for yourself and your family in terms of exposure and protection.

The sun emits 3 kinds of UV light: Long wavelength (UVA), medium wavelength (UVB), and short-wavelength (UVC). The shorter the wavelength, the stronger the light. Fortunately, UVC radiation (powerful enough to kill humans instantly) is absorbed by our atmosphere and never reaches earth. However, as the ozone layer slowly depletes from environmental pollution, there is an increase in the penetrations of UVA and UVB, resulting in earlier and more aggressive skin damage.

UVA Rays

Ultraviolet A rays account for approximately 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface. It can penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin and is responsible for the immediate tanning effect. Although both UVA and UVB are bad for the skin, UVA rays are more of a threat because a much larger percentage of them reach the earth’s surface. They’re present all day long, year-round, even when it’s cloudy. If you see daylight at any hour, UVA rays are present. UVA rays are considered the sun’s silent killers because, unlike UVB rays, you do not feel the effects of UVA rays damaging your skin. UVA rays penetrate farther into the skin than UVB rays, steadily destroying key substances in the skin that give it its firmness and elasticity. UVA rays are a leading cause of wrinkles and a major contributor to almost every type of skin cancer. This is why UVA rays are commonly referred to as “aging” rays.

UVB Rays

UVB rays are the ones your mother always warned you about- the ones that lead to painful and visible sunburns. Along with burning, UVB rays can also cause skin cancer. The cancers associated with UVB radiation are most commonly the non-melanoma types, basal cell, and squamous cell carcinomas. These are the skin cancers that originate in the epidermis, the top layer of your skin, where the short UVB rays strike and cause damage. Although not as skin penetrating or present as UVA rays, UVB light is powerful as this is directly responsible for sunburn and other visible changes to the skin’s surface, including discolorations. UVB radiation also plays a role in skin cancers. UVB is often referred to as the “burning” rays.

UVC – Ultraviolet C Rays are very dangerous but the ozone layer acts as a shield and absorbs most of the sun’s ultraviolet radiations. The gradual depletion of the ozone layer, leads to an increase of ground level radiation that can be harmful to humans. UVC rays are the strongest, but thankfully don’t reach the Earth’s surface. UVA and UVB rays not only reach your beach towel, but they penetrate your skin. Both UVA and UVB rays cause most skin damage.

SPF- Sun Protection Factor

SPF is only a measure of protection against UVB radiation, it has no bearing on the more dangerous and aging UVA rays. A high-SPF sunscreen will prevent you from a UVB-induced sunburn but sunburn is nature’s way of letting you know that you have had too much sun for your skin type and a signal that it’s time to seek shade. So, thanks to your SPF 30, you may be spending three to four times longer in the sun, believing that you are protected. Since your sunscreen blocks mainly UVB light and to a much lesser extent UVA, you have just gotten three to four times more UVA light. Since UVA light is present in one hundredfold greater amounts in the environment than UVB light, the profound damage that is associated with UVA – aging and melanoma – is on the rise. However, Broad spectrum SPF refers to sunscreens that protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. This is the best choice to protect yourself and your family from harmful exposure. Also wear sun hats (SPF fabric), proper eye protection and don’t forget to hydrate as well!

Check out for more detailed information on the harmful effects of sun exposure.