3 Things You May Not Know About UV Radiation – and Why You Should!

Posted by on Jun 5, 2011 in Beauty | 4 comments

UV Protection

The American Cancer Society recommends four easy, fun, and safe sun habits: Slip, Slap, Slop and Speak out.

It all sounds so easy – grab a bottle of sunscreen, apply it, and you’re safe to go out into the sun. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as that, and what you don’t know may be putting you, or your children, at risk of premature aging, or even potentially deadly skin cancer!


Ultraviolet radiation is classified according to wavelength as UVC, UVB, or UVA.

UVC has the shortest wavelength, and is the most damaging – but it is completely filtered by the earth’s atmosphere, so we don’t have to worry about it.

UVB has the medium wavelength – it penetrates only the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis, and is responsible for tanning, and sun-burn, and skin aging, and skin cancer. Most of it is filtered by the earth’s atmosphere – it is strongest mid-day during the summer months.

UVA has the longest wavelength – it was long considered to be safe, and is therefore what is used in sun-tanning studios. It has since been found to cause more damage to the body than UVB. UVA is not filtered by the earth’s atmosphere, and is roughly the same strength all day long, year-round. It can penetrate light clothing, car windshields, office windows and hats … It also goes through the epidermis, and penetrates the second layer of your skin, the dermis, accelerating the aging process by damaging both collagen and elastin, dilating blood vessels, causing age spots, and wrinkles. In addition, UVA rays are known to cause melanoma, a deadly skin cancer.

SPF (sun protection factor)

SPF is a measure of the effectiveness of a sunscreen in protecting against UVB radiation (an SPF of 15 means that, used properly, the user will require fifteen times as much UVB radiation before being sunburned as they would without the sunscreen on). What is noteworthy is that an SPF rating says nothing about how much protection is offered against the more dangerous UVA radiation. Look for “Broad spectrum UVA/UVB” sunscreens containing zinc oxide (best), titanium dioxide, or avobenzone. And be aware that some sunscreens that claim to be broad spectrum provide only limited protection from UVA radiation.

Common ingredients, and how they can be harmful

You may have heard arguments that using sunscreen is just as dangerous as NOT using sunscreen – on the one hand you have the possibility of getting skin cancer from too much UV exposure, while on the other hand there’s the danger of getting cancer due to absorption of carcinogenic toxins contained in sunscreens!

Here is a list of some commonly used ingredients of sunscreens, and their safety ratings [Environmental Working Group] :


RETINYL PALMITATE (VITAMIN A PALMITATE) – cancer and reproductive toxicity

OXYBENZONE (Active Ingredient) – endocrine disruption, readily absorbed and persistent

Believed to be safe:


AVOBENZONE (Active Ingredient)

HOMOSALATE (Active Ingredient)

OCTISALATE (Active Ingredient)

OCTOCRYLENE (Active Ingredient)

TITANIUM DIOXIDE (Active Ingredient)

ZINC OXIDE (Active Ingredient)

Interestingly, even many sunscreens marketed as being safe for children or babies contain potentially toxic ingredients. Check before you buy!

To make sure that your sunscreen is both safe AND effective – check it out at Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetics database, at http://www.ewg.org/skindeep


  1. Today in the news:

    Sunscreens that claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer will need to protect against both ultraviolet A and B rays and have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, according to new U.S. rules issued Tuesday.

    The long-awaited labelling changes by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are aimed at giving consumers more information on how to protect themselves from the risk of skin cancer and early aging, as well as prevent sunburn.

    Sunburn is primarily caused by ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation, while both UVB and UVA radiation contribute to skin cancer and early aging.

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