The Science of Sunscreen
Always Use Proper Protection
Summer represents beaches, bathing suits, and sun tans but many of us often underestimate the side effects of so much fun-in-the-sun and neglect the use of sun screen. Sadly, this oversight can lead to terribly painful sunburn and even skin cancer in the long term.
3 Types of Ultraviolet Radiation Wavelengths
There are three types of ultra violet radiation waves (or UV rays) that are produced from the sun. These rays have shorter wavelengths than visible light but can cause much more damage to unprotected skin.
The three types of UV rays are:
• UV-A: This is the longest wavelength and is not absorbed by our Earth’s ozone. It penetrates the skin deeper than UV-B rays and is responsible for long-term skin damage such as premature aging or cancer.
• UV-B: This type of UV ray produces golden tans but is also guilty for sunburns and is only partially blocked when passing through the ozone layer.
• UV-C: This is completely blocked by the atmosphere and we only encounter it from artificial radiation sources. Sunscreens will not protect you from UV-C, but you won’t easily encounter it either.
The Science of Sunscreen
Modern sunscreens are generally a mixture of “sunscreen” and “sunblock” based chemicals. These chemicals work in conjunction with one another to filter out UV radiation using a combination of two types of primary active ingredients – inorganic particles and organic molecules.
Inorganic particles, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – the basis of sunblock, form a physical barrier over the skin and reflect or scatter UV waves away from it. In the early years of sun protection, these ingredients resembled white paint when applied, but most modern sunscreens are now invisible as a result of advances in nanotechnology.
The organic components that make up sunscreen absorb UV rays and release their energy as heat. The most common forms of organic sunscreen ingredients are:
• PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid): Absorbs UV-B
• Cinnamates: Absorbs UV-B
• Benzophenones: Abosorb UV-A
• Anthranilates: Absorb both UV-A and UV-B
• Ecamsules: Absorb UV-A
What is SPF?
SPF is a value that represents a Sun Protection Factor that lets you know how long you can stay in the sun before getting sunburned. Your skin actually has a natural SPF. This is partially determined how much melanin you have or how darkly pigmented your skin is. While SPF only applies to UV-B protection, most sun screen labels indicate if they offer a broader range of protection and whether or not they work against UV-A radiation.
Be sure to check your sunscreen before purchasing to determine which will be the best protection during your planned outing.