UVA vs. UVB: What’s the Difference and How Do You Choose the Right Sun Protection
Sun-safe before sun worship
It’s summer. The temperature is up. The humidity is in full-force. The sun is out, bringing with it not only rays of sunshine but also the more notorious ultraviolet radiation.
That’s right, we’re talking about the UV rays known to damage your skin, the same ones that skincare brands claim to counter. But did you know that both bands of UVA and UVB can cause damage to your skin, albeit in different ways?
Ahead, we school you on the differences between UVA and UVB. The distinction will help you find out exactly what kind of sun protection you need for your skin, although good rule of thumb is to shield your skin from both types of radiation.
UVA vs. UVB: The Real Score
UVA and UVB are the rays emitted by the sun that reach the earth’s surface. Exposure to both can lead to skin disorders and diseases. So, what’s the difference between UVA and UVB?
UVA (use “A” as a mnemonic for aging) rays cause your skin to age faster because they penetrate the epidermis and deeper down into the dermal layer of your skin. That’s where all the substances that make your skin firm and elastic are! UVA making a deep dive into this layer gives you hyperpigmentation and wrinkle problems.
An indirect yet equally nasty effect of UVA rays is that they suppress your immune system. Needless to say, when your body's defenses are down, you’ll find it more difficult to fight off infections of whatever form.
On the other hand, UVB (use “B” as a mnemonic for burning) rays target the outermost skin layer—the epidermis. These are the bad boys that cause sunburn. Although its reach is more superficial than UVA rays, it’s the UVB rays that are responsible for the development of skin cancer.
Protecting Yourself Against UV Damage
It shouldn’t be too difficult to shop for the right sun protection products, such as sunblock and sunscreen, if you know how they work.
Sunblock physically shields you from UVB rays as it scatters UVB light and forms a barrier between the surface of your skin and UVB rays. On the other hand, the chemicals found in sunscreen penetrate your skin and absorb UVA rays, preventing them from reaching and damaging your skin’s dermal layer.
Meanwhile, the level of protection you get from your sunscreens depends on the SPF (sun protection factor). The SPF value indicates how long your sunscreen should be able to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. An SPF of 15 means you could afford to be out in the sun 15 times longer before you get sunburned had you not been wearing sunscreen, so it follows that a sunscreen with SPF 30 will give you longer protection from UV damage.
For the most part, sunblock protects you against UVA, but there are also sunscreen products that enable you to fully protect your skin. These products offer a broad spectrum sunscreen to protect you against UVA and UVB rays. Some formulas also contain a mixture of sunblock and sunscreen for maximum skin protection.
The Verdict: What We Recommend
You can shop for and hide under an umbrella, sure, but it won’t go far in protecting you from harmful UVA and UVB rays. Even regular sunblock won’t do the trick!
Because UVA and UVB rays both damage the skin differently, it’s important to protect yourself from both. For this, broad-spectrum sunscreen is your best friend! Make sure you get a water-resistant sunscreen, too, so it doesn’t get washed off easily with sweat or while you’re swimming. You should also reapply sunscreen on the most sun-exposed skin surfaces every two hours.
With summer coming in hot, we're pretty sure many can't wait to get out of the city or jump into the nearest pool. Just make sure you stay sun-safe at all times, wherever you are!