It’s easy to remember skin protection when the sun is out or when you’re headed to a beach holiday, but on the cloudy days or during the winter doldrums, it’s harder to remember. But even when the sun is hiding, it can still do damage. That’s why skin protection is something to stay vigilant about year-round, on the gray days too. We explore exactly why that is below and share some tips for keeping your skin safe.
UV rays and how they affect our skin
The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that up to 40 percent of the sun’s UV rays reach the earth on a cloudy day. The sun emits three different types of UV rays: UVC, UVA and UVB. UVC rays are the most powerful but rarely get through the earth’s atmosphere, which means they have very limited roles in skin cancer incidences, and it’s also why we don’t hear about them all that often.
UVB rays are responsible for most of the skin damage and contribute significantly to the development of skin cancer. These are the rays that penetrate the top layers of our skin and cause burning and delayed tanning. According to the World Health Organization, UVA rays account for approximately 95 percent of the UV radiation that reaches the earth’s surface. These rays penetrate to the deeper layers of the skin, creating an immediate tan.
UVA rays are also largely responsible for wrinkles and skin again, and evidence suggests that they contribute to the development of skin cancer as well.
The key thing to remember about UV rays is that they can penetrate through clouds, glass and smog, which means that SPF protection is vital year-round, even if you’re only running from your office to home.
Good things to know to keep your skin protected:
· UV rays are strongest between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. Re-apply sunscreen every couple of hours or as you sweat or get wet, seek shade and/or layer up with clothing and wide brimmed hats if you are outside during this period.
· While the sun is damaging year-round, it is true that summer (and now spring) generally show higher UV ray readings than autumn and winter, so it’s especially important to apply sunscreen and keep your hat close by during these periods.
· UV rays are stronger at higher altitudes so be especially careful if you’re in the mountains or at a higher elevation. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UV exposure increases 4 to 5 percent for every 1,000 feet of elevation, meaning UV radiation can be 35-45 percent more intense at an altitude of 9,000-10,000 feet than at sea level. If you are skiing in the mountains, be aware that the reflection from the snow also increases UV exposure.
· The same goes for the equator. UV radiation is stronger at the equator because the sun is closer to the earth’s surface, so pay extra attention if you’re in countries near the equator as well.
· Some sunscreens only protect against UVB rays and don’t block the also damaging UVA rays. That’s why you should always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen. This type protects you against both UVA and UVB rays.
Also helpful: the UV Index
The UV Index is a standardized international measurement that indicates the daily strength of UV rays. Essentially, it’s a spectrum that allows people to gauge their degree of risk — knowing when protection means wearing a hat and applying sunscreen or when it’s better to avoid being outside altogether.
The index is on a scale from 0 to 11, with 0 being the lowest risk level and 11 being the highest.
Here’s a quick guide to the UV Index:
0-2.9: Low risk level
Low danger for the average person. Wear sunglasses if the sun reflects off the snow and a low SPF for all year-round protection, especially if you have fair skin.
3-5.9: Moderate risk level
Moderate risk for sun exposure. You may want to seek shade during the midday hours and wear clothing that covers your body.
6-7.9: High risk level
This index indicates that the sun rays are dangerous and protective clothes as well as SPF 30+ cream is needed. Protect your eyes with sunglasses and seek shade.
8-10.9: Very high risk level
This level usually occurs on hot summer days. It is recommended to apply sunscreen as well as stay indoors during midday hours and get plenty of hydration.
11+: Extreme risk level
All precautions are needed as this level of radiation indicates health dangers beyond sun burn. Hats, protective clothes and SPF should be used at all times. Be extra sure you re-apply sunscreen every two hours as well.
How SkinVision can help
If you are a SkinVision user, you may have already noticed an icon that says “Activate UV Index” on the home screen of the app. If you click it, this will automatically show you the current UV risk level for your area, allowing you to know the level of precaution you should take before leaving the house.
Get into the habit of checking the UV Index before getting ready in the morning. While it may seem like overkill, it’s a great way to be more aware of what’s going on in your environment, enabling you to keep your skin better protected year-round.