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The arrival of spring means the return of warm weather, greenery, fresh flowers and sunshine. Feeling the sun on your face after spending a winter behind clouds is an incredible experience, but it’s one that you need to be cautious about. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the primary source of premature aging, and can cause serious skin cancers. Before you head out to soak up the sunshine, learn what ultraviolet radiation is and how you can best prevent damage to your skin.
UVA vs. UVB Radiation
If you’ve ever wondered about the term “broad-spectrum” on your sunscreen’s label, you might not know that there are two major types of ultraviolet radiation: UVA and UVB. Both of these rays cause damage to the skin, but in different ways.
The Skin Cancer Foundation says that “UVA rays account for up to 95 percent of the UV radiation reaching the Earth.” While it is true that UVA rays are 30 to 50 times more abundant than UVB rays, UVB rays are more powerful and do the worst damage to your skin. An easy way to remember this is to think of UVA rays as the “Aging” rays and UVB rays as the “Burning” rays. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “UVB, the chief cause of skin reddening and sunburn, tends to damage the skin’s more superficial epidermal layers. It plays a key role in the development of skin cancer and a contributory role in tanning and photoaging.” UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, which is why they do more permanent, lasting damage to your skin.
Ways to Prevent UVB Radiation
You’ve probably been told before to avoid peak sun hours, and this is one of the greatest ways that you can avoid damage caused by UVB radiation. To prevent UVB radiation damage you should:
- Stay out of the sun between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM, because this is when the most significant amount of UVB rays hit the United States. Experts recommend avoiding the sun during these hours from April until October, but it is important to note that UVB damage can occur at any time of the year.
- Use sunscreen every single day without fail. Sunscreen is the most effective anti-aging product available, but it is also unfortunately, the least used. To prevent UVB radiation damage you must use a sunscreen that is labeled as “broad-spectrum,” because this means that the sunscreen provides both UVA and UVB radiation protection.
- Wear protective clothing when appropriate. You aren’t going to hit the beach in your jeans and turtleneck, but there are measures you can take to prevent UVB damage. Sunglasses are great protection for your eyes and the area around your eyes. Wide-brimmed hats are another great option, because they provide shade for your face, neck and chest. If you are able, wear tightly knit fabrics as these provide stronger UV protection than loosely knit fabrics. You don’t have to cover everything up, but be sensible about your protection when in the sun.
UVB radiation damage is much more severe than simply being a “cosmetic” matter; it is a major factor in many cases of skin cancer. To properly protect yourself, you must wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen and be smart about your time in the sun.