3 Things YOU NEED to know about UVA in 2020

aerial photo of mountain surrounded by fog

Beach getaways and hiking in glorious warmth without a raindrop in sight! The sun beaming down on our backs as we splash in the water and build sandcastles… Well, it doesn’t matter where you go, the sun will follow, as will the risk of sunburn and skin damage. If you thought UVB rays were bad, wait til you read about UVA rays!

Komodo island, Indonesia

Here are 3 things you NEED to know about UVA in 2020:

1. What is the difference between UVA and UVB?

UVA rays are 500 times more concentrated in sunlight than UVB rays. Yikes! Not only that, UVA and UVB rays both cause skin cancer, ageing and burning – but UVB is worse for burning and UVA is worse for ageing. This is because UVA rays penetrate the skin deeper than UVB.

UVA can penetrate glass but UVB can’t – so wear your sun protection if you are near a window indoors or on a plane!

UVA can still penetrate your skin in the shade whereas UVB won’t. That’s why it’s essential to wear a hat, sunglasses to protect your eyes, long sleeved thick clothing or stay indoors at a high UV index (more on that later).

Komodo island, Indonesia

2. Why is UVA exposure bad for my skin?

Deeper skin damage causes ageing to happen. This means losing elasticity (saggy skin) and scarring. Also, who wants to age faster?!!

When I talk about ageing, I’m talking particularly skin cell damage at the DNA level. When DNA gets damaged it’s difficult to copy that damaged DNA to produce a healthy cell. And if a damaged cell keeps replicating… what do you get? A potential cancer cell that’s out of control!

Here is the science bit: Normally our healthy cells notice cell damage and self-destruct (ah, mother nature keeping us safe!). If that self-destruct function of the cell is damaged then our immune system kicks in to destroy the cell… but if your immune system can’t detect the cell as faulty (because the cell has been repeatedly damaged!), then the once-healthy cell is now a cancer. (Was that too much science? Please read on!)

UV exposure over time causes your skin to get darker- that tan! Melanin gives your skin its colour. The more melanin you have the darker your skin is. Melanin reflects UV rays to prevent cell damage. Tanning is therefore your skin reacting to the sun to get darker and trying to protect itself. That’s why a “healthy tan” is a misnomer. And those of us with naturally darker skin are not sun-proof – it just means you naturally burn less easily. Protect your skin 🙂

Age spots and sunspots are also unsightly. Remember, previously damaged skin is more easily damaged in future.

Hamburg, Germany

3. What are UVA star ratings?

Ah, yes, the curious world of the sun protection creams. Before we knew about UVA rays we only recommended SPF for UVB ray blocking. So if you are not seeing stars on your chosen sun protection cream and only SPF… that’s right, you guessed it, it will not protect you from UVA rays, only UVB! You have to see a UVA rating with at least 4 stars or 5 stars. Like SPF, the higher the rating, the better the protection. See the picture below for what it typically looks like.

UVA 5 star “ultra” rating blocks 90% to 99.999% (Nothing is 100% so re-apply sun protection regularly) Look for this symbol on sun protection products!

One more thing…

So before you head out you look up the weather right? In the same way, you should look up the UV index too. It’s normally a number between 0 and 15. Kind of like when the weather forecast tells you how heavy the rain will be, the UV index tells you how intense the sun will be. The higher the number, the more you should do to protect yourself. This UV Ray Index actually suggests that you wear sunscreen no matter what and I wholeheartedly agree… For more information on the ABCs of UV rays go here.

Thank you so much for reading, I hope you learned something new! Make sure to put on that sun protection -clothing, hats, sunglasses, creams, umbrellas! 🙂

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I am a UK GPhC registered Pharmacist in London

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