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The Science Behind How the Sun Affects Your Skin


It’s no secret that the sun’s rays can have a profound impact on our skin, leading to signs of premature aging and even increasing the risk of skin cancer. But why does the sun have this effect on our skin? And how can we best safeguard our skin from potential harm? Let’s explore the science behind how the sun affects your skin, and provide tips for keeping your skin both healthy and protected.

Understanding UV Rays

When we hear about the sun’s rays, one term that frequently comes up is “UV rays” or ultraviolet radiation. UV rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun and can also be produced in artificial settings like tanning beds.

This radiation is particularly harmful to humans due to its short wavelength and intense energy transfer. We aren’t able to see it (like light) or feel it (like heat), and it can penetrate through clouds, glass, and even some fabrics. This means that without even realizing it, our skin and eyes can be exposed to dangerous levels of UV radiation. Even on a cold, cloudy day, your skin may be absorbing a full dose of UV. Checking the UV ray index of the place you’re in is a helpful way to monitor your potential exposure.   . 

There are three main types of UV rays emitted by the sun: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

UVA Rays: UVA rays penetrate through to the lower layers of your skin and trigger cells to produce melanin, making your skin darker and sometimes even giving it a glow. But that healthy glow may be concealing dangerous skin damage. Collagen and elastin, vital compounds that maintain your skin's firmness and elasticity, are negatively affected by UVA rays. This can lead to premature aging and increase the risk of skin cancer.

UVB Rays: Unlike UVA rays, UVB rays affect the upper layers of the skin and are the primary cause of sunburn. More dangerously, they can directly damage your DNA and play a significant role in the development of skin cancer.

UVC Rays: Fortunately, UVC rays are almost entirely absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere and don’t reach us! We are only potentially exposed to these rays from artificial sources like lasers.

Let’s focus on UVA and UVB rays, since these can significantly impact our skin health, while UVC rays are largely inconsequential in the context of our daily lives.

The Role of Free Radicals

Understanding UV rays isn't just about the direct harm they cause; it’s also about the deeper processes they trigger within our bodies, notably the production of free radicals! 

Understanding free radicals may require you to think back to your high school chemistry class. You may remember that electrons prefer to travel in pairs. If an atom, molecule, or ion loses or gains an electron, they become an unstable ‘free radical’ and will aggressively try to find a partner.

When our skin is exposed to UV rays, especially UVA rays, it causes inflammation and stress to molecules, killing electrons and increasing the production of free radicals. These molecules, in their quest for stability, can damage cells, proteins, and DNA by stealing their electrons. 

The effects of free radicals on the skin can be cumulative and can lead to premature aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. Some of the effects of free radicals on the skin include:

  • DNA damage: Free radicals can cause mutations to DNA, leading to changes in the skin's structure and function, and even potentially initiating the process of skin cancer.

  • Skin aging: Oxidative stress, caused by free radicals, accelerates the aging process of skin. This can lead to wrinkles, sagging, age spots, and other skin imperfections.

  • Inflammation: Free radicals can trigger inflammation, leading to redness and irritation.

Fighting Back Against Free Radicals

So how do you stop free radicals? Antioxidants! Antioxidants neutralize the imbalanced molecules by donating an electron to a free radical. Once that molecule has an even number of electrons, it resumes its normal function. 

You can find antioxidants in many foods, including most fruits and vegetables as well as in green tea. In addition to eating, you can apply topical products containing antioxidants. Vitamin C is the antioxidant that the skin uses the most and it’s available in a wide variety of skincare products. But how do you prevent free radicals from forming in the first place? 

The Importance of Sunscreen

Sunscreen is one of the most effective ways to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays. There are two types of sunscreen: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens work by creating a physical barrier on the skin's surface, reflecting UV rays away from the skin. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, absorb UV rays and convert them into heat, which is then released from the skin.

When choosing a sunscreen, it's important to choose one that offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, and choose a physical sunscreen if you have sensitive skin. 

Proper application of sunscreen is essential to harness its full benefits. Apply sunscreen liberally to all exposed skin, and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating. If you are using a spray on sunscreen, don't just spray and go – make sure you fully rub it into your skin. 

If you need a new sunscreen, Qyral’s offers a unique formulation that serves as both a primer and a sunscreen: Protect PhytoVie Cell Defense Mineral Primer-Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen!

Other Sun-Protective Measures

In addition to sunscreen, there are several other measures you can take to protect your skin from the sun. Wearing protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirts, can help keep your skin out of the sun's direct rays. Seeking shade, especially during peak sun hours of 10am-4pm, can also help reduce your exposure to UV radiation.

While it's important to protect your skin from the sun, it's also important to enjoy outdoor activities and get enough vitamin D. To stay sun-safe while enjoying outdoor activities, try to avoid peak sun hours, wear protective clothing and sunscreen, and seek shade when possible. You can also consider taking a vitamin D supplement to ensure you're getting enough of this important nutrient without putting your skin at risk.

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