The Sun and UV rays

When we meet foreign friends they also comment on how they love Malta because we have the sun almost all year round. To be honest both Steph and I prefer the winter – we are pluviophiles. As you all know the sun is the worst enemy of our skin (you get hyper pigmentation, and the skin ages a lot quicker when exposed to the sun often) Of course there are the benefits of the sun such as Vitamin D production, increased serotonin levels leading to better moods for many people. But since the sun is with us for most of the year we have mastered dealing with it both with regards to the heat and on how to best protect our skin.

We wear sunglasses (there are so many gorgeous sunglasses available now we wish we could get them all); Steph wears big hats (They don’t suit me (Belle) that much I’m afraid), We wear light clothing, and drink 3 litres of water a day to keep our skin hydrated, we drink aloe vera juice everyday for the antioxidants, we don’t smoke, we eat healthy food (except for the occasional burger when PMS hits us like a tonne of bricks) and next week we are also starting gym together – we will keep you posted on that too.

However you cannot avoid the sun in Malta thats like saying you go out only at night like vampires apart from the fact that its sometimes good to be outside even for your mental health.

Unfortunately, some sunscreens aren’t much better for you than the sunburns they prevent. So its good to be aware of what you should look out for.

UVA and UVB explained

UV rays only account for 5% of the sun rays that reach the earth, but they are very powerful. There are several kinds. UVA and UVB are 2 of the UV rays that reach the earth and have an effect on our skin.

So to break it down for you:

UVA – A (as in Aging)

UVA’s account for 95% of the ultraviolet rays that touch the earth’s surface. They pass through clouds, glass and the epidermis; unlike UVB’s, they are painless so you will not feel them on your skin – the skin burning affect you feel when sunbathing comes from UVB rays. UVA rays bring about several effects on our skin including: Photoageing: they cause a change in the skin collagen causing skin to slacken and wrinkles to appear. (thats why people who have spent a lot of their time in the sun when they were younger tend to be much more wrinkled. Pigmentation disorders (dark spots on the face and body) and the Development of skin cancers amongst others.

UVB: B as in “burns”

UVB rays constitute 5% of the ultraviolet radiation received on the earth. They are very high in energy and are stopped by clouds and glass. They are responsible for tanning, but also burns (sunburns), allergic reactions and skin cancers. It is therefore important to protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

Sunscreens are labelled with an ‘SPF’. This stands for ‘sun protection factor’, although the SPF is more accurately the sun burn protection factor, as it primarily shows the level of protection against UVB, not the protection against UVA.

A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 protects against about 93% of UVB rays, one with an SPF of 30 protects against 97% of rays and a sunscreen with an SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays.

So, while it may not seem that you’re increasing your level of protection by a significant amount, an SPF 50 sunscreen will block three times the UVB radiation than an SPF 15 sunscreen would let through to your skin.

As for UVB rays, there are different levels of protection from UVA rays, known as PPD (Persistent Pigment Darkening). Sun protection with a high PPD provides better protection from the damage caused by the UVA rays responsible for premature aging of the skin, the appearance of pigmentation marks or sometimes simply pimples, and can also lead to a higher cancer risk.

PPD values aren’t measured as precisely as SPF numbers. In fact, there is no standardized system for determining them, so there is some ambiguity in their assessment. PPD is also known as PA in some countries with plus signs (ex. PA++) that signal UVA protection strength. The higher the PPD number or the greater the number of plus signs, the better a sunscreen protects against UVA rays.

A sunscreen with a good SPF/PPD ratio offers the best protection against UV rays (or in other words a broad spectrum protection).

When purchasing a sunscreen you need to be aware of not only the SPF but also degree of UVA vs UVB protection.

watch out for our next post on how to chose the best sunblock for your skin now that you know all about UVA and UVB