How Does Sunscreen Protect Our Skin?

The “Lobster look” is never going to be fashionable! The good news is that it can easily be avoided with some common sense and a splodge of sunscreen.

Sunscreen

The actual composition of sunscreens hasn’t changed much since they were originally developed, but technology used to produced them has improved significantly

Sunscreen is a combination of organic and inorganic chemicals that have the ability to filter sunlight, preventing dangerous types of light, in particular ultraviolet light, to reach deep into your skin.

What is ultraviolet light?

Ultraviolet light, usually shortened as UV, is characterized by a shorter wavelength than visible light. The sun emits UV light, which is highly dangerous, but luckily the ozone layer filters most of it before it can reach our atmosphere.¬† However, some UV goes through, and it’s better to be safe and apply some sunscreen to avoid permanent skin damage.

UV can be subdivided in three regions:

  • UV-A is the most dangerous, as it can penetrate into the skin and can cause premature skin aging and even cancer
  • UV-B is also dangerous, as it can cause sunburn and cancer
  • UV-C is completely blocked by the atmosphere
Sunscreen - Types of Ultraviolet Radiation

The sun emits UV light, which is highly dangerous, but luckily the ozone layer filters most of it before it can reach our atmosphere

 

What are the chemicals present in sunscreen?

The actual composition of sunscreens hasn’t changed much since they were originally developed, but technology used to produced them has improved significantly. The first types of sunscreen could be mistaken for white paint when applied to the skin, but nanotechnology has made it possible to obtain clear products that are just as effective.

Every sunscreen is composed of both organic and inorganic ingredients. Inorganic components, including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are used to form a physical barrier and reflect UV light. On the other hand, organic components can absorb specific types of UV rays and release heat.

  • Anthranilates – absorb UV-A and UV-B
  • Ecamsules – absorb UV-A
  • Benzophenones – absorb UV-A
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (known as PABA) – absorb UV-B
  • Cinnamates – absorb UV-B

What does SPF mean and is it important?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It’s value defines how long you can stay in the sun safely to avoid sunburn. It basically multiplies your natural skin protection, which in turn depends on how much melanin you have (darker skins have higher protection). For example, if you can stay in the sun without burning for 10 minutes, by using a sunscreen with SPF 10, then you can stay 10 times longer, up to 100 minutes. This value was specifically designed to prevent sunburn by UV-B radiation, but nowadays most sunscreens also state their protection against UV-A radiation.

Now, enjoy the summer but be safe in the sun!

Alex Reis
Alex Reis is a freelance science writer, with a particular expertise in the field of biological sciences. She has several years experience in scientific writing and research, with various scientific manuscripts published in high impact factor journals, including Nature Cell Biology, as well as articles promoted in more mainstream publications.
Alex Reis
Alex Reis

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