Here in Norway, summer is coming to an end and in a couple of months, the beautiful, sunny and green streets will turn into white, snowy and freezing streets. So for those of you that still have your summer, be sure to make the most of it. However, make sure you’re careful. As peaceful and as wonderful the sun rays may feel, they are also capable of utterly destroying your skin and eyes and even leading to skin cancer. I’m sure most of you have heard of sun screen/cream, or at least heard your mothers nagging at you to put it on, however, in this article I’d like to explain how it actually works and why you really should put it on. The same goes for sunglasses, they’re not just fashionable, they actually protect your eyes!
I think we can all agree that it’s very hard to pull off the red lobster look. You want to be tanned? That’s fine but you can still use sunscreen and get a tan! You just need to pick the right types of sunscreens and the right factors. To understand which ones you need to pick, we first need to understand how we get sunburn in the first place.
The Sun emits ultraviolet radiation, which is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than the visible light wave length (UV is invisible to the human eye but we sure notice its effects on our skin (sunburn)). The ozone layer in our atmosphere blocks quite a lot of ultraviolet radiation, however, some of it still reaches the ground. UV radiation is divided into different wave-lengths that tell us what kind of UV radiation we are dealing with (picture below shows the different wavelengths).
UV-B rays are shorter than UV-A rays and only reach the surface of the skin, therefore they are the most responsible for sunburn. UV-A rays damage more as they are longer and can reach into our skin. They are mostly responsible for causing the skin to premature, however, they can also burn the skin but they do more damage (deeper damage) than the UV-B rays. Both UV-A and UV-B can lead to skin cancer.
UV-C radiation does not reach us, as you can see on the image above, its wavelength is much shorter than that of UV-B and UV-A.
Which sun cream should I use?
There is often a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) labelled on the container of the sunscreen. This is a measure of how much longer it means you can stay in the sun without burning compared to how you would normally burn without protection.
SPF 15 or higher is the best thing for most people. The way SPF works is if you’d usually burn in 10 minutes without protection, SPF 15 multiplies that by 15, so in theory you could go 150 minutes before burning. However if you burn very easily and have very fair skin, SPF 30 is often recommended. If you plan on being in the sun all day, some may even recommend SPF 50. However, there is only a slight improvement in how much the UV radiation is filtered. Make sure to reapply every few hours or so.
How does sun cream help filter out UV radiation?
In sun creams there are two main types of active ingredients. There are inorganic particles (such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) that reflect or scatter the UV waves away from your skin. There are also organic components that actually absorb the UV rays and then release their energy as heat.
How much money should we spend on these products?
Well, in general all sunscreens do the job if they’ve got the right ingredients (which you can check). However, in general the more expensive sun creams may feel less greasy, or even smell better. You don’t need to spend a ridiculous amount of money on sun cream to keep you from getting sunbun, with the exception of having skin conditions that make normal sun cream unusable and irritable.
Don’t go crazy with sun creams though! Our bodies need vitamin D and we may not get this through sunlight if we have too much sunscreen on all the time or we’re using a really high SPF (50+).
According to dailymail.co.uk:
Experts advise the fair-skinned to get out in the sun in the heat of the day for around 20 minutes three times a week without suncream.
If you want to learn more about how we actually get sunburned, this article is a great read, introducing a molecular signal that triggers sunburns!
Not only does UV radiation damage your skin, it damages your eyes too!
It is very possible that UV radiation may contribute to the development of some eye disorders, such as vision loss and impairment. Some UV damage can be immediate whilst some can occur over a life-time of exposure without protection. As stated by friendsforsight.org:
Chronic exposure to bright sunlight can damage the cornea (the outer transparent part of the eye that transmits light to the retina), the lens (the part of the eye responsible for focusing), and the retina (the innermost layer of the eye that transmits an image to the brain).
With the thinning of the ozone layer, more UV rays will be able to reach us. This is why we should make sure we use sunglasses (preferably “proper” ones) when exposed to sun-light over a long duration.
Who knows, perhaps the damaged eyes and red lobster look will be trendy one day!