SPF, UVA, UVB what do these letters mean?
SPF, UVA and UVB are abbreviations that are familiar to many of us, but what does this collection of letters actually mean?
Firstly, an SPF or Sun Protection Factor is a measurement of how well a cream (be it sun cream, moisturiser or foundation) protects your skin from UVB rays, which can damage skin that is left exposed.
And what do UV, UVA and UVB mean? Well UV stands for ultraviolet and the A and B refer to the length of waves. There are three types of ultraviolet rays:
• UVA is long wave ultraviolet rays and can penetrate deeply into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer, and can lead to premature ageing and serious skin conditions.
• UVB, on the other hand, refers to short wave ultraviolet rays; these rays are less intense than UVA and vary by the season, location and the time of day. UVB rays reach the superficial layers of the skin, and are involved in the tanning and burning of the skin.
• UVC is the lesser known about kind of ultraviolet ray, and this is because it is completely absorbed in the atmosphere and doesn’t touch the skin at all.
Why are UV rays bad?
Exposure to UV rays can be extremely harmful and damaging to our skin – and sometimes this damage isn’t reversible which is why prevention is so important! Some of the harmful results of UV exposure include:
• Sunburn. This goes without saying, nobody wants sunburn! It can be extremely painful and is caused by dilation of the superficial blood vessels as a result of unprotected exposure. UVB is thought to be mainly responsible for sunburn however, UVA is thought to contribute to at least 15% of this damage. Those of us with fair skin, red or blonde hair, freckles or blue eyes are most likely to get sunburnt.
• Tanning. Tanning is your skin’s way of trying to protect itself from ultraviolet rays and although this might sound like a positive thing, it can cause thinning of the skin and as we get older this skin becomes frail and prone to tears and bruising.
• Premature ageing. Repeated exposure to UV radiation causes the premature ageing of skin. It leads to dryness, wrinkles, loss of skin elasticity, degeneration of elastin and collagen, and an imbalanced pigmentation.
• Suppression of the immune system. One of the most dangerous results of repeated, unprotected exposure to UV rays is the suppression of the immune system. It is believed to be an important contributor in the development of skin cancers which is why protecting your skin is so important.
Why bother in winter?
Now you may be wondering why you should bother with an SPF in winter – summer is over and the winter sun isn’t warm enough to burn us. Well, regardless of the drop in temperature UVA rays are still at their full intensity – even in the winter months! The potential for damage isn’t actually related to the outside temperature but the intensity of these UV rays. Clouds and rain don’t absorb UV very well, although it would take twice as long to do the same amount of damage in as full intensity sun. In fact, up to 80% of the sun’s rays can penetrate clouds!
Even if we spend all day indoors or in our cars we aren’t fully protected from the sun; while glass can stop UVB rays, UVA light can still get through although it would take even longer to do the same amount of damage. Not only can wearing an SPF preserve your skin health but it can slow the ageing process by 24%!
How does an SPF work?
SPF works against UV rays by reflecting and absorbing them, inorganic materials are combined with organic ones: the inorganic materials repel the rays while the organic ones take them in and expel them as heat.
How high an SPF should we wear in winter?
Naturally it isn’t as hot in winter as in summer so you are less likely to need a factor 50, so I would suggest a factor around the 20 or 30 mark. However, you may not need this high a factor if you spend most of your time indoors.
The great news is that many skincare companies recognise the importance of protecting the skin from UV rays and now include SPFs in their products. One great example is the rise of the BB cream; BB creams (or beauty balms) are designed to do the job of many skincare products all in one product. A good BB cream should act as a moisturiser, primer, concealer, foundation and sunscreen.
Many moisturisers, day creams, and foundations also include an SPF. One of my favourites Natura Siberica’s Rhodiola Rosea Day Cream, has you covered! This day cream contains SPF 20 and ingredients that provide instant hydration and protection from external environments and stress. Costing only £7.20 this cream is perfect for those of you on a budget!
Protect your pout!
You may be thinking that wearing an SPF stops at the exposed skin on the face but no – your lips are also at risk from UV rays. Wearing an SPF lip balm can help protect lips from drying out and becoming chapped or damaged by cold weather. For a scent-free, natural lip balm look no further than Green People’s Soft Lips Scent Free SPF8 Balm. Green People made this lip balm from organic coconut, capuaçu, vitamin E and berry wax to condition and hydrate lips to give you the best lip salve that nature can offer.