The sun is by far the strongest source of ultraviolet radiation (UV) in our environment. The sunlight that reaches us is made up of two types of harmful rays: long wave ultraviolet A (UVA) and short wave ultraviolet B (UVB).

Even though ultraviolet (UV) radiation make up only a very small portion of the sun’s rays, they are the main cause of the sun’s damaging effects on the skin

What is UV?

The sun is by far the strongest source of ultraviolet radiation (UV) in our environment. The sunlight that reaches us is made up of two types of harmful rays: long wave ultraviolet A (UVA) and short wave ultraviolet B (UVB).

UVA and UVB affect the body in different ways

UVA activates melanin pigment already present in the upper skin cells. It creates a tan that appears quickly but is also lost quickly.

UVA penetrates into the deeper skin layers, where connective tissue and blood vessels are affected. As a result the skin gradually loses its elasticity and starts to wrinkle. Therefore, large doses of UVA cause premature ageing.

UVB stimulates the production of new melanin, which leads to a heavy increase in the dark-coloured pigment within a few days. This tan may last a relatively long time. UVB also stimulates the cells to produce a thicker epidermis. Therefore, UVB is responsible both for the darkening and thickening of the outer cell layers – these reactions are the body’s defence against further UV damage.

SPF 

SPF stands for sun protection factor. Sunscreens are classified by an SPF number which refers to their ability to deflect UVB rays. The SPF rating is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to burn sunscreen-protected skin vs. unprotected skin.

The SPF listed on a container of sunscreen is a measure of how well it protects skin against UV rays. It indicates how long you could spend in the sun before burning when protected by sunscreen compared to when you have no sunscreen on.

CANSA recommends using sunscreen with SPF 20-50. Preferably 30-50 for fair to very fair skin. Apply generously every 2-3 hours.

The truth about a suntan

There is no such thing as a healthy tan! The skin produces a dark-coloured pigment, melanin, as a shield against further damage from UV radiation. The darkening provides some protection against sunburn, however, it is no defence against long-term UV damage such as skin cancer. A suntan may be cosmetically desirable, but in fact it is nothing but a sign that your skin has been damaged and has attempted to protect itself.

For more information visit www.womens-health-concern.org

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