Guide to UV and IR-A sun protection

The best way to avoid sun damage during the summer months is to stay indoors. But that’s neither practical nor advisable – after all, no one wants to stay inside all summer, plus a little sun exposure is actually good for us as it allows our bodies to make vitamin D.

Using the right type of sun protection products can help keep your skin healthy when you can’t always stay in the shade. But with so many products to choose from, how can you make sure you’re getting the best protection possible?

Sunscreen products can vary in the amount of protection they offer, as well as the type of rays they protect against. Here’s what you should know about the rays that can cause damage to the skin when you’re exposed to them for too long:

UV-A These rays penetrate the skin deeply down to the dermis, the layer of skin below the epidermis (the top layer). They are the rays your body needs to start making vitamin D. Overexposure to UV-A rays is linked with skin ageing and short-term pigment darkening (tanning).

On sunscreen products, UV-A protection is usually represented as a number of stars from one to five, the higher the number meaning the higher the level of UV-A protection. The NHS advises using a sunscreen product with at least four-star UV-A protection to protect your skin from the sun.

UV-B UV-B penetrates the skin’s more superficial epidermal layers and is the main UV ray that’s responsible for sunburn. It plays a key part in the development of skin cancer while also contributing to skin ageing. UV-B rays are strongest between March and October, particularly from 11am to 3pm.

The strength of UV-B protection in a sunscreen product is measured in units called SPF (short for sun protection factor). The higher the SPF number, the higher the amount of production a sunscreen offers. NHS guidelines state that you should use a sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 to protect against UV-B. If you have pale or fair skin that burns easily, however, you may need a higher level of SPF protection, from SPF 30 – 50+.

IR-A UV radiation is part of the electromagnetic spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun, with UV-A and UV-B both penetrating the earth’s atmosphere. But scientists are now advising they’re not the only rays from the spectrum that can damage our skin. Infrared-A light from the sun also reaches us – indeed, it’s thought that only seven per cent of the sun’s rays are made of UV-A and UV-B, with IR-A making up around half. And because IR-A rays penetrate deeper into the skin, they can cause both long and short-term damage.

IR-A rays trigger the generation of harmful molecules called free radicals, which may both damage skin cells and break down collagen in the skin, leading to skin ageing. Many sunscreen products have yet to include protection against IR-A.

However, to protect your skin against burning as well as ageing, your local Careway pharmacist can tell you about Solero Triple Defence products, which offer UV-A, UV-B and IR-A protection.

There are lots of other things you can do to stay safe in the sun. Read our article 10 top sun protection tips to keep you and your family healthy this summer – without spoiling anybody’s fun.

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