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What UV Rays Are—and How to Choose Sunscreen to Protect Your Skin

July 06, 2020

When the temps warm-up and the days get longer, we’re naturally drawn outside. But before you head outside, be sure to take steps to protect your skin from the dangers of UV rays.

You may not know much about UV rays, but you’ve probably heard of them at some point. In today’s blog, we’re breaking down what these rays are, the impact they have on your skin, and how to choose a sunscreen to protect yourself.

Fred Sesti, NP

Read on as Fred Sesti, a nurse practitioner with West Tennessee Medical Group offers some insight and tips!

What Are UV Rays?
You know the sun as a bright orange/yellow orb up in the sky that makes it “sunny” and warms up the temperature. While both of those things are true, have you ever wondered what exactly produces that warmth and light?

The sun emits what are known as ultraviolet rays, or UV rays. These rays are part of the natural energy produced by the sun.

It’s interesting to note that ultraviolet rays have short wavelengths, which is why you can’t see them like you can “visible light.” But your skin can feel UV rays.

There are three types of ultraviolet rays—ultraviolet A, ultraviolet B, and ultraviolet C. Of those, UVC rays are by far the most dangerous, but they don’t penetrate through the ozone layer.

UVA rays and UVB rays, on the other hand, do penetrate through the ozone, making it to earth and causing potential damage to your skin. Both UVA and UVB rays can damage your skin and increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

How Do UV Rays Impact the Skin?
The two types of UV rays that make it to earth act in different ways. UVB rays are often absorbed by the ozone layer, but some of them do make it earth. UVA rays, on the other hand, pass entirely through the ozone.

There are other differences, too. UVA rays contain the least amount of energy. They can cause your skin cells to age and indirectly do some damage to your cells’ DNA. This type of UV rays is most commonly associated with signs of aging such as wrinkles, but does increase your risk of skin cancer.

UVB rays contain more energy than UVA rays, and because of this, they can directly damage the DNA in your skin cells. This type of UV rays is responsible for sunburns and significantly increases your risk of skin cancer.

Along with causing wrinkles, sun spots, and sunburns, UV rays can also do damage to your eyes, such as cataracts and eyelid cancers.

How Can I Stay Safe From UV Rays?
We touched on some basic sun safety recommendations in a recent blog, but let’s dig a little deeper into two main components of staying safe from UV rays.

First, avoid tanning beds entirely. Just like the sun, tanning beds emit UV rays. While the amount of UV rays you’re exposed to varies depending on the type of bed and how long you stay in the bed, any exposure is too much exposure.

Even just one exposure in an indoor tanning bed greatly increases your risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma.

Next, take action to protect your skin when you’re out in the sun. Your best defense is applying sunscreen to all exposed skin before going outside. 

What should you look for in a sunscreen? You want to choose a sunscreen that’s labeled as “broad-spectrum,” meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. From there, choose one that contains a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 30.

You might think higher is better when it comes to SPF, but after you get to SPF 50, any further protection is negligible. What matters is that you apply enough sunscreen and that you reapply it.

Apply an even coat of sunscreen over all exposed parts of your skin at least 30 minutes before going outside and reapply at least every two hours. If you’re swimming or sweating, reapply more often.

Even if you’re not spending tons of time outside, it’s still important to apply sunscreen to exposed skin. Apply a facial sunscreen or moisturizer containing sunscreen daily for the best results.

Sunscreen on? Check! Skin check? Next! The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends having a dermatologist perform a skin check on an annual basis. West Tennessee Healthcare offers comprehensive dermatology services. FIND A PROVIDER HERE