How many times have you heard that UV rays can damage your skin? If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably wondered what exactly UV rays are and why they can be so damaging. The short answer is that UV rays are energy waves that come from the sun. What makes them so damaging is that the higher energy found in UV rays can cause molecular breakdown after exposure by changing the structure of the molecule itself. Now consider that your skin is made up of millions of molecules, all of which can be negatively affected by UV rays. Prolonged exposure can lead to sun damage in the form of wrinkles, dark spots, and even skin cancer, which is why you should always wear sunscreen, in all kinds of weather.
Not all UV rays have the same effect on skin. UV rays can actually be classified into three types: UVA, UVB, and UVC.
- UVA rays make up most of the radiated energy that comes to earth from the sun, yet they emit the least energy of all UV rays because they have the longest wavelength. Less intense doesn’t equal safer, though. UVA rays are the most common, the most consistent, and the rays that can penetrate most deeply into the skin. Early signs of aging are usually the result of exposure to UVA rays over many years.
- UVB rays are mostly absorbed by the ozone layer, but not entirely, so some UVB rays still reach earth. As you might imagine, UVB rays vary in intensity by location, season, and time of day, and reflective surfaces like ice and water can intensify their effects. UVB rays cause sunburn, as well as damage to the superficial layers of skin, and can lead to skin cancer.
- UVC rays are the most intense and potentially damaging, but this same high intensity means the ozone layer is mostly effective at blocking this harmful energy. Interestingly, certain manmade procedures that produce energy can produce this type of wave – and exposure to UVC rays can cause eye problems like cataracts.
As we approach summer, you don’t have to remember exactly what UVA and UVB rays do. Just focus on preventing overexposure while still enjoying the benefits of warmer weather and the brilliant sunshine. We recommend straying on the side of caution and wearing elizabeth roche m.d. SolarEclipse 30 Sunscreen or SkinMedica’s Environmental Defense SPF 50 or Daily Physical Defense 30. Wearing light clothing, a stylish hat with big sunglasses to protect your face, head, ears, neck, and eyes is also recommended. And don’t forget- during midday hours when the sun is at its strongest, try staying indoors and if you are outside, stay in the shade.
At New Jersey’s Elizabeth Roche MedSpa, we can undo some of the damage caused by years of sun exposure with treatments like chemical peels, but the easiest way to avoid future premature aging is to protect yourself from the sun.