We often hear that sunscreen is important to avoid sunburns, rashes or cancer from the rays, but how does sunscreen protect us from this? Since I was a child my parents always forced me to wear sunscreen. As I grew older I took over that responsibility to protect myself. Being keen on this topic I decided to do some research and share it.
When sunlight reaches the earth’s surface, it emits three types of radiation. Infrared which we can feel like warmth. Visible lights that help us see. And UV light that we cannot feel or see. The UV light is the major culprit in causing harmful effects. Additionally, the UV rays are emitted from other sources that we fail to take into account such as tanning equipment or black lights. Direct exposure to this can damage humans or artificial materials. Furthermore, 80% of the sun’s rays can get through clouds or mist, so it is important to protect yourself from the rays throughout the year.
As the sunlight hits the upper layer of the skin called the epidermis, the visible light gets reflected, however, the harmful rays penetrate through. After entering, it reacts with DNA and harms it. When skin cells are damaged by UV lights, a dark pigment called melanin is released. This pigment can absorb the light, and the body uses this as a shield. However, melanin cannot completely stop the damage to the skin. Once the skin starts tanning, this is a sign that the damage has already occurred and the body is preparing itself for further exposure. This can cause skin cancer, accelerated ageing of the skin and signs of sun damage, such as wrinkles, leathery skin, dry or coarse skin or actinic keratosis.
Sunscreen acts as a filter and reduces the number of rays that reach our skin. Although it does not completely block radiation it does help a significant amount.
Sunscreen is made from a combination of different ingredients. This includes two categories, physical blockers and a chemical absorber. The physical blocker contains minerals such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide that are ground up. When applied they reflect UV rays away from your skin like a mirror. The chemical absorber, as the name suggests, forms a protective layer that absorbs radiation before it penetrates the skin. Both types of sunscreens have their own benefits and some contain a combination of both.
Next time you plan on stepping out, rain or shine, make sure to put on some sunscreen and protect your precious skin!