SPF, UVB, and UVA: Why Sunscreen is So Important

When it comes to the great outdoors, there's nothing quite like it. Sunny days and blue skies make us happy, and an active lifestyle is something all of us should learn to nurture. Days on the beach, hiking trips, and an outdoor activities increase our longevity and keep us healthy. But there's one, very hot and bright detail we need to be concerned about.

The Sun Ages Us More Than Anything Else

This is a little known fact, but the sun actually accelerates the skin's aging process more than anything else, save extremely excessive smoking. Radiation from the sun (also known as UV rays) can be detrimental to your skin if not protected. Exposure to UV rays can cause premature aging and signs of sun damage like wrinkles, leathery skin, liver spots, actinic keratosis, and solar elastosis. This is known as photoaging.

Here is a prime example of how the sun ages your face; a photo of a truck driver with sun damage to one side of the face, where the sun hits more through the driver's side window:

sun damage truck driver

What is Actinic Keratosis?

According to skincancer.org, actinic keratosis (AK) is the most common precancer that forms on skin damaged by chronic exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and/or indoor tanning.

AKs often appear as small dry, scaly or crusty patches of skin. They may be red, light or dark tan, white, pink, flesh-toned or a combination of colors and have a 5 - 10% chance of turning cancerous.

Because of this, it's important to have these lesions or spots removed.

What is Solar Elastosis?

This is a fancy way of saying skin elasticity damage from the sun. Solar elastosis is most prominent in those who've experienced long-term sun exposure over many years.

With solar elastosis, the sun’s UV rays break down the collagen and elastic fibers in your skin, causing the skin to lose  strength, flexibility and structural support. Because it is primarily caused by UV damage, solar elastosis is most commonly seen on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and arms.

UVB vs. UVA: What's the Difference?

The sun has two distinct types of UV rays: UVB and UVA. While either of these rays can play a part in premature aging, skin cancer, and sun damage, there are a few distinct properties that set these types of radiation apart, including energy and how deep they actually penetrate the skin:

UVB:

UVB rays are most prominent for causing sunburn. According to webmd, UVB rays have slightly more energy than UVA rays. They have a short wavelength that can only reach the outer layer of your skin called the epidermis, but  have have been linked to the formation of skin cancers, especially a dangerous form of skin cancer called malignant melanoma.

UVA:

UVA rays form a whopping 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the earth and have a lower amount of energy than UVB rays, but a longer wavelength. They are capable of entering the middle layer of your skin called the dermis and play an active role in the development of some types of skin cancers.

Here's a breakdown of some of the important differences as well between chemical and physical sunscreens and how they affect the absorption of UV rays:

Physical Sunscreen:

  • Physical sunscreen sits on top of the skin like a barrier and reflects harmful UVA and UVB rays.
  • They contain active mineral ingredients, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide in large quantities.
  • Most commonly found in creams/lotions; have a white cast to them which takes a lot of effort to massage/rub in.
  • Naturally offers Broad Spectrum Protection
  • Less likely to irritate the skin
  • Ideal for blemish-prone skin

Chemical Sunscreen:

  • Chemical sunscreen absorbs into the skin and then absorbs UV rays, converts the rays into heat, and releases them from the body
  • Contains carbon-based compounds such as oxybenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone
  • Most commonly found in sprays, powders, and makeup. They have a thin consistency and spreads easily. Takes roughly 30 minutes to act as a sunscreen.
  • Not an ideal sun protector
  • Most likely to cause skin irritation, disruptions, and redness
  • Comedogenic; clogs pores
  • Usually suits all skin types

FDA UVA and UVB absorption

How Can You Protect Against UV Rays?

It's important to understand that no method of protection will block 100% of  UV rays. While it's important to apply an SPF sunscreen to mitigate sun damage, it's important to know a few things.

According to the FDA, SPF is a measure of how much solar energy (UV radiation) is required to produce sunburn on protected skin (i.e., in the presence of sunscreen) relative to the amount of solar energy required to produce sunburn on unprotected skin. As the SPF value increases, sunburn protection increases.

There is a misconception regarding SPF sunscreens though, and that's the belief that a higher numbered SPF means you can stay out in the sun longer. This is a complete myth. SPF refers to the amount of solar radiation the sunscreen can protect against, not for how long.

For instance, a sunscreen with SPF 30 will protect you from around 96.7% of UVB rays, whereas an SPF of 50 means protection from about 98% of UVB rays and anything beyond SPF 50 makes very little difference in terms of risk of sun damage.

How Should I Apply Sunscreen?

It's important to apply sunscreen anywhere on your body that will potentially be exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This includes hands, arms, neck, shoulders, back, legs, buttocks, and face. It's always good to proceed with caution when putting sunscreen on around the eyes and near sensitive areas.

Most of the time, 1 oz of sunscreen should be enough protection to fully cover the body and it's important to rub thoroughly into your skin. Reapply every two hours and remember that you can use other methods of protection (i.e. an SPF lip balm, hats, sunglasses, and other articles of clothing).

The Takeaway

Being out in the sun is one of life's enjoyable pleasures, but it doesn't mean that we shouldn't take precautions to protect our skin and health from the powerful and often damaging radiation from the sun.

Applying an SPF sunscreen is one of the ways you can protect yourself and it's vital that it is applied and re-applied properly. And as always, no sunscreen or method of protection is guaranteed 100% effective, but by taking small steps to protect your skin, you can seriously mitigate chances of sunburn, sun damage, photoaging, and skin cancers.

Gin Amber Beauty is also launching our very own toxic-free mineral SPF sunscreen within the next 40 - 60 days from this blog post. So keep your eyes peeled for this hitting our inventory very soon!

Mineral sunscreens are much safer for people who are concerned about long-term exposure to chemical ingredients and are ideal for children, people with sensitive skin, and people with melasma.

Thank you Amber Babies for checking out yet another one of my blog posts. Feel free to leave comments on your own acne experience. And don''t forget to visit me on TikTok, as well as on IG, @ginamberx, where I go over insanely effective skincare tips, trends, and topics!

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