UVA and UVB Rays Explained: What do they mean for our skin?

It’s a hot summer day and you've spent the afternoon at the beach with your friends.  You didn't apply sunscreen because you're working on your tan and duh -- sunscreen is going to leave you pale!  (We’ll talk about why this isn't true later on).  When you finally go  inside, you realize that your skin is burnt and red -- yikes!  You might not think much of it now, but your future self is well… *insert face palm emoji*.

Each and every time you walk outside, you expose your skin to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.  UVA and UVB rays are the only types of ultraviolet light that reach the Earth and our skin.  And while we can’t see them, our skin can feel the UV’s effects if we don't take the correct precautionary efforts early on.

Now, you may be thinking, It’s just sunlight, how bad can it really be? Well, I hate to break it to you (actually it’s probably a good thing that I do!), but the long term consequences of sun damage are not pretty.  I'm talking wrinkles, sun spots, and even skin cancer. But before I get too ahead of myself, let's go over the difference between UVA and UVB rays.  



UVA vs. UVB:  What’s the difference?

UVA Rays are longer in length and penetrate deep into the skin, as well as through clouds and windows. They cause premature aging, wrinkles, and sunspots like I mentioned above.  As opposed to UVB, there are 500x more UVA rays in the sunlight that touches our skin.  While UVA damage isn’t as noticeable, its outcome is far more blemishing and harmful to the complexion. 

UVB Rays are shorter in length and invade the first few layers of the skin's surface.  These rays are associated with sunburn and dangerous types of cancer such as melanoma.  UVB’s damage shows up almost immediately and usually results in dry, itchy, and inflamed skin.  As some UVB rays get caught in the ozone layer, around 5% of the Earth’s UV rays come from UVB.  



Potential Risks of Sun Damage

  • Premature aging
  • Skin cancers including melanoma
  • Wrinkles
  • Sun spots
  • Blistering

How Sunburn Happens

Both UVA and UVB can cause the skin to darken.  UVA oxidizes the melanin, a pigment produced by melanocyte cells.  When melanin oxidizes, it turns a dark tan color which affects the pigment of the skin.  UVB rays cause the amount of melanin pigments to increase, making the skin appear deeper.  

Preventative Actions to Take

Taking the correct measures to protect your complexion will help prevent a handful of skin concerns down the road.  Here are a few ways to keep your skin safe from UV radiation while enjoying your time outside...

  • SPF lip protection
  • UV resistant eyewear
  • Baseball caps or sun hats
  • Long and modest clothing that covers the skin
  • A sun umbrella
  • *SPF and Broad Spectrum Sunscreen

* When choosing a sunscreen, make sure it protects from both UVA and UVB rays.  Some sunscreens only contain SPF (Sun Protection Factor).  SPF blocks UVB rays but not UVA.  For UVA protection, look for the phrase “Broad Spectrum”.  Be sure to reapply frequently and check to see if the brand you're using is water-resistant.  

UV Risk Levels





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