It is shocking how many people think it is ‘ok’ to avoid sun block when exposed to the harmful UVA and UVB rays. It is not only important to protect yourself during sunny days but cloudy days are equally harmful. If you are wondering what UVA and UVB stand for or why you absolutely MUST wear sun block, then read on.
UV (ultraviolet) radiation is part of the electromagnetic (light) spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun. It has wavelengths shorter than visible light, making it invisible to the naked eye. These wavelengths are classified as UVA, UVB, or UVC, with UVA the longest of the three at 320-400 nanometers (nm, or billionths of a meter).
The ozone layer or ozone shield is a region of Earth's stratosphere that absorbs most of the Sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It contains high concentrations of ozone (O3) in relation to other parts of the atmosphere, although still small in relation to other gases in the stratosphere.
The UV radiation that pass through the ozone layer can then penetrate the layers of your skin. So, where does sunscreen come into play and so what, if UV radiation penetrates the skin? If these are your thoughts then hold onto that, because I have some bad news for you.
Both UVA and UVB penetrate the atmosphere and play an important role in conditions such as premature skin aging, eye damage (including cataracts), and skin cancers. They also suppress the immune system, reducing your ability to fight off these and other maladies. Most of us are exposed to large amounts of UVA throughout our lifetime. UVA rays account for up to 95 percent of the UV radiation reaching the Earth's surface. Although they are less intense than UVB, UVA rays are 30 to 50 times more prevalent.
By damaging the skin's cellular DNA, excessive UV radiation produces genetic mutations that can lead to skin cancer. Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have identified UV as a proven human carcinogen. UV radiation is considered the main cause of nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSC), including basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) respectively, each year. Many experts believe that, especially for fair-skinned people, UV radiation also frequently plays a key role in melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
If this still hasn’t convinced you, here are 5 simple reasons why protecting your skin is so important.
- The ozone layer is depleting and your body needs shielding from harmful rays.
- Skin cancer rates are on the rise and sunscreen has been proven to decrease the development of skin cancer.
- It helps to prevent facial brown spots and skin discolorations.
- It also helps to reduce the appearance of facial red veins and blotchiness.
- It slows down the development of wrinkled, premature aging skin.
As a pharmacist, I get a lot of questions about expired medicines, creams, lotions etc. Expired sunscreen has literally fallen apart, so the formulation no longer works as a sun protectant. You basically get no protection. Expired products can also cause irritation or reactions.
There are also many medications which may make the skin extra susceptible to sun. Please call our pharmacy for advice if you are taking any long-term medicines or if you are experiencing sun sensitivity as a side effect.
What kind of protection do I need?
Sun protection factor, more commonly known as SPF refers to the theoretical amount you can stay in the sun without getting burnt. For example, if your skin reddens in 1 hour the SPF 15 will protect you 15 times that amount increasing your time to 15 hours. The required SPF will depend on your skin type alongside other factors such as the weather and any medicines that you may be taking. If you require more information on which SPF you may need, contact our pharmacy for more details.
The recommended minimum SPF is 15 and you must ensure that your sunscreen has at least 4 stars on UVA and UVB protection. If you are very active or do water sports it will be a good idea to use a water resistant sun block.
- Always wear a hat to protect your face
- Wear clothes that can block the sun
- Avoid going out into the sun between 11am-3pm
- Check your body for new or changing moles
- Use sunscreen liberally and frequently