How can the sun damage your skin?
Sun exposure causes most of the skin changes that we think of as a normal part of aging. Over time, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light damages the fibers in the skincalled elastin. When these fibers break down, the skin begins to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to go back into place after stretching.

UVA Rays

UVA rays are constantly present, no matter the season or the weather. If you think you can’t get sun damage on a cloudy day, tell that to the UVA rays. They are so powerful that they also penetrate clothing and even glass. (When was the last timeyou applied sunscreen before getting behind the wheel?)

UVA rays used to be considered relatively safe, and that’s why tanning beds, which use UVA rays, advertise themselves as a safe way to get a tan. But we now know that using tanning beds before the age of 30 can actually increase your risk of skin cancer by 75%!

Also UVA rays responsible for skin aging because they are able to penetrate much deeper into the surface of the skin, damaging the skin cells beneath.  While people think their skin looks younger and even healthier when it’s tan, the reality is that each, each tan is creating irreversible skin damage.  Many times this skin damage does not show up immediately but rather 10, even 20 years later.

 Your skin will have wrinkles, dark spots, and an bumpy texture.

Bottom line:  When you think of UVA rays remember they are causing sun spots, leathery skin and wrinkles.


Truck Driver exposed to chronic sun on drivers side. Photo then edited to see how he would look with and without sun exposure.

UVB Rays

UVB Rays are the rays you can blame when you get a sunburn. Unlike UVA rays, these rays aren’t always the same strength year round; they are stronger in the summer months.

However UVB rays reflect off of water or snow and cause a sunburn even in the winter, so it’s always important to protect yourself year-round with sunscreen.

UVB rays are responsible for causing most skin cancers. While large doses of UVA rays can contribute to cancer, it’s the UVB rays that are commonly to blame.  If you’ve heard the advice to stay out of the sun though the mid day hours, it’s the UVB rays you’re trying to avoid. They are most prevalent mid day, so if you must be out at that time, protect your skin with clothing, a wide brimmed hat, and of course sunscreen.

Bottom line:  When you think of UVB rays, think sunburn and cancer.

How to Protect Your Skin

All sunscreens protect against UVB rays, but it wasn’t until recent years that sunscreen started including UVA protection.  Look for one that specifically says UVA/UVB or “broad spectrum coverage” on the bottle.  Do not buy a sunscreen for you or your family that does not provide protection from both types of rays.  Be sure to use a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15 and reapply every hour or two.   Apply your sunscreen generously!  Almost no one applies enough sunscreen.  You should be using approximately a full ounce on your body ( a shot glass size of sunscreen) and about 1 teaspoon on your face each time you apply.

Keep in mind how to figure out how much protection your sunscreen is giving you from the sun.  For example if you are using a sunscreen with SPF 15 and your unprotected skin burns after 20 minutes in the sun you can stay outdoors 15 times longer or about 5 hours.  That is, of course, if you applied enough sunscreen to begin with.  Don’t forget to protect the tops of your ears, neck, chest, hands, and feet.

Lastly, don’t let the weather decide for you if you are going to apply sunscreen or not.  Even if it is a cloudy or rainy day be sure to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. The less you protect your skin, the more prone you are to sunburn, cancer and skin aging.