There are two types of UV rays that we need to worry about protecting ourselves from. A simple way to remember the difference between them is UVA which are the ageing rays and UVB which are the rays that cause burning of the skin.
UVA rays cause premature ageing by affecting elastin in the skin, which causes wrinkles, sagging, and pigmentation. These rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays and can even penetrate through window glass.
Most sun damage in many people occurs from day-to-day exposure to the sun and not at the beach.
UVB rays cause the skin to burn and are strongly linked with malignant melanoma and other skin cancers, although UVA rays have also been linked to skin cancer.
So you can see why it is vitally important to protect your skin from both types of UV rays. Remember, even on a cloudy day or when you are sat in the car, UVA rays penetrate window glass, clouds and rain, so you are still being exposed to UV rays.
Sunscreens - labelling
There is a common misconception that by using a sunscreen you are protecting your skin against both burning and ageing. However, this is not always the case.
The SPF figure provided on the label on a sunscreen gives an indication of the protection it will offer the skin against burning i.e. it shows the protection it offers against UVB rays.
You should look out for the UVA circle on labels as this will indicate that it has been thoroughly tested to EU standards for UVA protection.
According to EU guidelines, a sunscreen should offer UVA protection that is at least 1/3 of the labelled SPF factor and, sunscreens that achieve this will be able to display the UVA circle on its label. Sunscreens - How they work
There are two different ways in which sunscreens work:
- Absorbers - Chemical filters absorb the harmful UV rays and then convert this energy into infrared which is released back out
- Reflectors - Physical filters which actually block the UV radiation by reflecting the UV radiation away from the skin
Staying safe in the sun
As long as you are exposed to the sun, you can never truly be safe from the effects of UV rays on your skin, but these tips will help you to stay as safe as you possibly can.
Remember! Suntanned skin is damaged skin.
- Always use a minimum SPF of 15 and reapply it every 2 hours, sooner if you are in particularly strong sun i.e. on holiday
- Always reapply after swimming and sweating, sunscreens easily rub off on clothing if they are not given proper time to absorb in to the skin. Remember, you should still apply protection on cloudy days because if the UV rays can penetrate glass, they can penetrate cloud too!
- Avoid being in the sun between 10am and 4pm when the sun is at its strongest
- Wear a hat, protective clothing and sunglasses with adequate protection
- Protect children. Research has shown that just 1 case of sunburn in childhood could lead to skin cancer in later life
Do not use sunscreen on babies under 6 months, except for a possible dollop of zinc oxide on the baby's nose. Children under the age of 6 months have not yet formed a protective skin barrier against the chemicals in the creams, so it is preferable to wrap them up with hats and sun protective clothing.