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UVA Rays: What They Are and How to Fight Skin Aging & Damage

by kelly / August, 10 2016 01:30

Girl under the sun's rays

The sun can be our friend and our foe. It provides warmth and life but also emits ultraviolet rays (UV rays) that cause all kinds of skin damage - wrinkles, sunspots, discoloration and even skin cancer. In fact UV rays are responsible for 80% of all skin aging. There are three kinds of UV rays: UVA, UVB and UVC. All are naked to the human eye. Let's break down UVA rays a bit more. We'll get into the other rays in the next round.

UVA Rays - What Are They

UVA rays account for 95% of the UV radiation that reaches us. They are less intense than UVB rays but much more prevalent which adds to the concern.

Unlike UVB rays, UVA rays are present at equal intensity throughout the day and all year-round. For a quick reference, UVB rays are most significant from 10AM to 4PM from April to October.

UVA rays, like UVB rays, penetrate clouds with up to 80% of them breaking through. Tanning booths also emit UVA rays as they are the dominant tanning rays.

UVA Rays - The Dangers

While UVA rays are less intense than UVB rays they penetrate the skin more deeply and are more prevalent (95% of all UV rays reaching the earth are UVA). As mentioned, UVA rays – like UVB rays - penetrate clouds (up to 80%).

UVA rays play a big part in skin aging and wrinkling. Yes, that's why we always say - and most dermatologists agree - the best and most affordable anti-aging treatment out there is sunscreen.

Additionally, UVA rays initiate the development of skin cancer. Studies over the past 20 years show that UVA damages skin cells in the basal layer of the skin where most skin cancer occurs.

In regards to tanning and UVA rays - a tan whether from the sun or a tanning bed is the skin's reaction to being injured by UV rays. Tanning causes aggregated damage over time that leads to skin aging (wrinkles, spots, discoloration) and skin cancer. In fact, skin cancer is by far the most common cancer in the United States. Tanning booths are particularly dangerous. They emit UVA rays at up to 12 times the dosage of the sun making them very harmful (see our blog post "The Dangerous Truths of Indoor Tanning" for more information). Tanning booths / beds should be avoided at all costs. Some states are even making them illegal for anyone under 18.

UVA Rays - Staying Protected

Now that I've sufficiently scared you (sorry) - here are tips to avoid skin damage from UVA rays. Fortunately, the tips are pretty simple.

The most important thing to stay protected is to practice good sun protection. Sun protection involves a few fundamentals including (for a full list check out suncare smart series):

  1. Wear sunscreen year-round as UVA rays are present throughout the year
  2. Wear sunscreen no matter the weather as up to 80% of UV rays penetrate clouds
  3. Wear sunblock every day as the slow daily lifetime of cumulative sun exposure is largely what causes skin damage later in life
  4. Seek shade when outdoors
  5. Cover up exposed body parts with clothing, hats, sunglasses etc.

UVA Rays - SPF Doesn't Measure Protection Level

Most people measure the efficacy of a sunscreen by its SPF (Sun Protection Factor). I read so many articles about finding the right SPF. But only looking at the SPF is a mistake.

SPF is only a measure of protection against UVB rays - specifically what percentage of UVB rays a sunscreen will block. SPF alone does not measure UVA protection. To ensure that your sunscreen is also protecting you against UVA rays look out for:

  • A product with an SPF 15 or higher with the phrase “broad-spectrum”, “multi spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on it. Broad Spectrum is the official US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) term - it’s only allowed on sunscreens that are tested for UVA protection - so that’s the one you really want to see.
  • One of the following UVA filters in the active ingredients on the label: stabilized a avobenzone, ecamsule (a.k.a. Mexoryl), oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide. Zinc and titanium are physical / natural filters while the others are chemicals.

At Block Island Organics all of our sunscreens offer broad spectrum SPF 30 protection and use zinc oxide (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are considered the safest UV filters).

With the right sunblock and sun protection measures - damage can be easily avoided.

More Info on UV Rays

Check out our blog "UVA, UVB AND UVC rays: What They Are and How Sunscreen Protects You" or our About UV Rays page for a good refresher course on UV rays in general.

For more information on broad spectrum protection see our blog "Broad Spectrum Sunscreen - What It Is and Why It's A Must".

Finally for even more sun protection tips check out our suncare smarts series.

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