Health, Skincare

Types of Ultraviolet Radiation

Types of UV Rays

Ok, I love how simple and to the point the NSF defined Ultraviolet Radiation so much I have to put it here. “Simply put, ultraviolet radiation (also known as UV radiation or ultraviolet rays) is a form of energy traveling through space.1

UV is short for ultraviolet. Ultraviolet rays are a type of radiation that is present in sunlight, but not exclusively. (The sun emits many different kinds of radiation, and the sun isn’t the only source of UV rays.2) Ultraviolet rays are (mostly) invisible to the human eye (except for a few super heroes in our midst who are missing the lens that protects/blocks the UV rays). Thanks to the Ozone Layer, we don’t suffer from the full brunt of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. There are some beneficial effects from UV exposure, such as helping our bodies create vitamin D and it’s use as an effective sanitizer, but ultraviolet radiation also does more harm than good.

So, lets think about a rainbow. A rainbow is the spectrum of light we can see with our eyes. ROY G BIV, right? The rainbow actually starts with violet light. Ultraviolet light is the next step, before violet, and is a light that we cannot see with our eyes because the wavelengths are too short. There are three types (or waves) of ultraviolet light; UVA, UVB, and UVC. These types are classified by the length of the waves.

When it come’s to skincare, the most important UV Rays are UVA and UVB.  UVC, which will be talked about later, is almost completely absorbed by the ozone layer so not really considered a problem when it comes to sun exposure.

It’s easy to think of UV Rays like this: UVA – A is for Aging and UVB – B is for Burning. Although it’s not that simple. Both types of UV rays can cause skin cancer and skin damage and contribute to aging and burning. It’s believed that the shorter the wave length, the harsher the effect on the skin and more dangerous the ray.

UVA rays have a longer wave length, so they can penetrate deeper into skin and through more barriers than UVB can. UVA makes up 95% of the radiation emitted from the sun that reaches Earth.3 UVA rays don’t vary in strength, prevalence or intensity throughout the year, so you can get the same exposure to UVA during the winter as you can in the summer. Because of UVA’s long wave length, it can penetrate straight through clouds and glass, unlike UVB rays, and it can reach lower levels of your skin to do more damage than UVB. Most of the rays emitted from tanning booth lights are UVA rays.

UVB has a shorter wave length than UVA, so it can be blocked easier. UVB has trouble getting passed clouds or glass and it seems to only do superficial damage to the topmost layers of skin, the epidermis, to cause burning, redness and irritation that we often associate with a sunburn. UVB rays do vary in intensity, as they are strongest around 10am-4pm and in the summer, but UVB rays are also the ones responsible for the “ski-mask” tans because they are easily reflected off the snow back into your face. But the damage it does to the top layer can also contribute to long lasting damage and skin cancer.

UVC rays are considered to be the most damaging UV ray but are almost completely filtered through the ozone layer before they reach us here on terra cotta. Because of this UVC is not commonly talked about or considered a problem4 when it comes to UV damage and protection.  But recent research has found that we can still be exposed to UVC rays here on Earth from man-made and artificial sources, like compact fluorescent lightbulbs.5 Unfortunately, even “broad spectrum” sunscreens are not formulated to protect against UVC rays. Further research and study is needed on UVC rays, now that we know we are exposed to them after all.


Knowing the difference between UV Rays will help you understand and decide which sunscreens to pick, which sunscreens are best for you and how to better protect yourself during the day and throughout the year.



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