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UV Radiation, UV Index and Sundamage. How are they linked?

Most Australians will only use sun protection on the hottest days of summer and forget it is not heat but UV rays that cause sunburn and photoageing as well as skin cancer.

Australia has among the highest rates of skin cancer in the world and it is possible to burn in as little as 11 minutes on a summer's day.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, unlike Infrared heat, is invisible and around us anytime there is daylight. It is radiation we can neither see nor feel and is present on even overcast and cool days in winter, as well as on cloudy days.

Exposure to UV radiation is the major contributing cause of photo ageing, sun damage and skin cancer, so at Skin Essentials, at an initial consultation with any new patient, we cover sun protection in depth, because it is our firm belief that it forms the basis of all anti-aging practices, without which all other in-clinic treatments will give subpar results. 

What types of UV are there?

UVA - tends to penetrate deeper into the skin's layer, the dermis, where it can trigger the pigment producing cells, the melanocytes, causing tanning. Darkening of the skin is always a sign of sun damage. It is also associated with cell damage and skin cancers.

UVB- tends to penetrate skin more superficially, the epidermis and is more likely to cause sunburn; Ozone stops most of the UVB from reaching us but 15% of it still gets through.

UVC - the most dangerous type but the Ozone layer absorbs all of it and none of it reaches us.

On any given day, year around, UV levels vary and are affected by location, altitude, time of day, time of year and clear vs cloudy skies. UV rays are present all year around anytime there is daylight.

The UV Index

UV Index The UV index is a tool to enable you to protect yourself from UV radiation. It tells us the times of the day when UV is expected to be highest so that we need extra protection.

Sun protection measures are recommended anytime the UV index is at 3 or above above which it can cause skin damage.




What are some ways we can be exposed to UV rays and not even realise it?

Incidental sun exposure is rife among Australians and it all adds up over a lifetime of sunburn, sun damage and over time, skin cancer risk.

Uneven pigmentation due to chronic sundamage Examples of incidental sun damage:

  • walking the dog
  • walking to check the mailbox and chatting to a neighbour
  • hanging up the washing and taking it in
  • going out to get a quick bite to eat, or a coffee
  • sitting in the car or on public transport daily
  • not reapplying sunscreen regularly through the day
  • not using other sun protective factors and relying only on the sunscreen

What is SPF?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It is the amount of time the sunscreen will protect you from the UV rays. SPF on sunscreen tells you how much additional protection you will obtain by using it.

For example, if you are someone who would normally burn after 30 mins of sun exposure, using a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 15 would multiply this protection THEORETICALLY by 15 ie 450 minutes before you burn.

In reality, this is impossible because:

  • sunscreen itself is gradually degraded by exposure to the elements
  • most people do not use sunscreen correctly or reapply often enough
  • sweat and other factors would render it less effective

For these reasons, it is recommended we reapply sunscreen regularly:

  • every 2 hours if we are out and about
  •  every 30-40 minutes if we are in the water
  •  combine sunscreen with other sun protective behaviours:
  • wear a sunhat
  • wear sunglasses
  • wear protective cothing
  • seek shade

So how does your SPF protect you from UV rays?

  • SPF in sunscreen refers mainly to UVB rays you are protected from. No sunscreen blocks 100% of UV rays which is why using ONLY sunscreen is not enough sun protection
  • SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
  • SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays
  • 80% of Australians do not apply enough sunscreen or correctly.

Every bit of UV exposure adds up over the years to photoageing and contributes to your risk of skin cancer

How much sunscreen should you use?

  • 5ml for every area of your body to be protected
  • 5 ml or 2 finger lengths of sunscreen for the face and neck including ears; each limb etc.
  • reapply every 2 hours if out and about, more often if in the water

Suncreen is very effective when applied correctly - however it is not a suit of armor so other protective measures are just as important:

  • protective clothing
  • a hat
  • sunglasses
  • shade





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