For a star that’s six billion-year old, the sun can still be a source of major confusion. While we know some exposure is necessary and even healthy – think boosted mood and vitamin D, which we can all benefit from – too much time soaking up ultraviolet B (short-wave) and ultraviolet A (long-wave) rays can cause us to feel sick, burn, develop wrinkles, lines and spots, and even cancer. With more people being diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined, it’s clear that we need to protect our skin and respect the sun.
UVB = burning rays
Sunburns are the result of UVB exposure: the rays damage the skin’s more superficial epidermal layers. They also play a key role in skin cancer development. The best way to avoid UVB rays? Be extra careful in the sun between 10am-4pm from April through October, when UVB rays are most intense.
UVA = aging rays
We get the most exposure to UVA rays; they’re present all the time and can penetrate glass and clouds. They are the primary “tanning” ray – while we may like the initial look of a golden tan, it’s actually the result of injury to the skin’s DNA. Skin darkens to prevent further damage. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB; these are the rays that ultimately lead to longterm skin damage and aging
Blue light = high energy rays
So we know that UVB and UVA rays from the sun require protection. But mounting research shows that blue light, which is emitted from the sun and – believe it or not – from screens, may be causing cellular damage too. Screens emit blue light, which has the shortest wavelength and highest energy of the spectrum. Because we’re in much closer proximity to that light from our computers and phones than from the sun, our rapidly increasing time exposed is beginning to cause some concern. The free radicals generated from the light cause damage to collagen and elastin – think inflammation, color changes, weakening of the skin’s surface, and damage to the DNA of our cells. It’s this DNA damage that leads to skin cancer.
Now it should also be noted that some blue light exposure can actually be used to treat certain skin conditions. Confusing? Absolutely. But for most of us, limiting blue light exposure is a wise way to protect our skin in the long run.
Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. The question then becomes – which sunscreen to use? How do you ensure you’re getting adequate protection without introducing a whole new set of issues from nasty chemicals? And what about children, what’s safe to use on them? Should babies wear sunscreen? Next, we’ll explore exactly what to look for – and what to avoid – in sunscreen options for the whole family.