There are few people who haven't heard about the danger of the sun's rays, but just how many of us really understand the science behind it? Whether you're a sun-worshipper, or you prefer to spend your days keeping cool in the shade, everyone needs to be aware of ultraviolet radiation (UVR).
Here, we are breaking down how different types of UV rays can affect your skin, and how you can help to protect against sun damage.
What's the difference in between UVA and UVB?
The sun emits three different types of UV rays – UVA, UVB and UVC – each with a different effect due to their wavelengths. As noted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), shorter wavelengths are the most harmful to our skin.
According to Sun Smart, Australia's high UVR levels mean that on a fine day in January, you can get sunburned after only 11 minutes' exposure. Understanding the difference between UV rays, as well as the associated risks, can be the first step on the path to better sun protection.
UVA: With a longer wavelength, UVA makes up 95 per cent of the UVR that reaches the Earth's surface. It is 30-50 times more prevalent than UVB and is present year-long during daylight hours.
UVA can pass through cloud cover and glass, with exposure to this type of radiation leading to photo ageing. Capable of penetrating the skin's deeper levels, UVA is responsible for the 'tanning effect', with some research also suggesting it can contribute to the development of skin cancer.
UVB: While most UVB is filtered out by the Earth's atmosphere, this medium wavelength radiation can still penetrate the skin's superficial epidermal layers. It is UVB that results in the burning and reddening effect of erythema, and like UVA can contribute to photo ageing.
Unlike UVA, though, UVB is not equally potent year round, fluctuating with the seasons. According to the WHO, this type of radiation can play a significant role in the development of skin cancer.
UVC: The most dangerous of the UVR types, we fortunately do not need to worry about UVC, as it does not reach the Earth's surface thanks to our atmosphere.
How can I protect my skin against the sun?
At its core, skin protection is all about reducing your amount of exposure to the sun. This involves sticking to the shade, covering up with protective clothing, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and UV-protective sunglasses as well as regularly applying sunscreen.
This is because UVA rays can penetrate clouds and glass, therefore playing a major part in long term premature skin ageing and can even initiate the development of skin cancers. A minimum of SPF 30 sunscreen is recommended to be applied daily, even when we are indoors.
In addition to preventing sunburn and skin cancer, a study by the University of Queensland found that wearing sunscreen daily can also reduce the effects of ageing on the skin, meaning there's one more great reason to take SPF seriously.
What sunscreen should I be using to protect against harmful UV rays?
The Cancer Council recommends using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30.
There are many misconceptions about how much and how often we need to apply sunscreen. When we are outdoors, just three minutes without proper SPF protection is enough to cause UV damage. The official recommendation from the Cancer Council Australia is to re-apply sunscreen every two hours if you're basking in the sun.
Even when we are indoors, at the office, or running daily errands, sunscreen should be applied on a daily basis. Sunscreen products are often doubled with your daily moisturiser for convenience, such as our Ultra UV Protective Daily Moisturiser Range, making it easy to include UV protection in your daily skincare routine.
If you are going to be spending time outdoors, it is a great idea to look for SPF 50+ Broad Spectrum protection. The Ultra SunActive SPF 50+ Range has a 4-hour water resistance, a great benefit when engaging in water activities or even exercising and sweating.