Here Comes The Sun: Everything You Need To Know About UV Damage

UV rays wreak havoc on the skin hours after sun exposure.

It has long been established that the major culprit behind skin discoloration is the sun, which emits UVB rays that cause sunburn and UVA rays that are more harmful as they penetrate deeper and cause the skin’s melanocytes to produce melanin. There are two kinds—the skin-protecting one that creates dark brown pigments and patches when it absorbs UV rays and the one that doesn’t absorb the rays but creates yellow and red spots and makes the skin more sensitive to the sun. What’s new is the discovery that melanin pigments—long considered a cosmetic issue rather than a clinical one—cause more than skin darkening and discoloration.

Some of our tried and tested favorites include Clarins UV Plus Anti-Pollution, which provides ample protection at SPF 50; VMV Armada SPF 30, which feels natural and is non-sticky; La Mer Protecting Fluid with SPF 50; and Bobbi Brown BB Creme, which has the right natural tint. 

According to a study published in the journal Science led by Yale University clinical professor of therapeutic radiology and dermatology Douglas Brash, melanin has both protective and damaging effects and much of the UV damage on the skin actually happens hours after sun exposure. Researchers discovered that the UV rays absorbed by melanin when you’re under the sun are stored into your skin’s tissues at night and wreak havoc for as long as four hours after actual UV exposure, which causes DNA damage and skin cancer.

When we talk about sun exposure, we also mean UVA rays under a cloudy sky, those that bounce from surfaces like mirrors and computer screens, or those that penetrate your home, office, or car windows. UVA doesn’t burn the skin, so you won’t feel it like UVB. But even when you don’t feel the heat, it doesn’t mean damage isn’t happening. Using reflective gadgets such as mobile phones, tablets, and laptops where the sun shines also increases your UV ray exposure by 36 to 85 percent, according to a study published by Dr. Mary Logue and Dr. Barrett Zlotoff in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Even reading a glossy magazine under the sun increases ultraviolet exposure by 46 percent, according to the study.


What’s new is the discovery that melanin pigments—long considered a cosmetic issue rather than a clinical one—cause more than skin darkening and discoloration.

These recent findings may not change the fact that the best protection is still sunscreen, but may perhaps convince more people to take the sunscreen-applying habit more seriously. A broad-spectrum sunscreen, which combats both UVA and UVB rays, is ideal for sun protection.

Our drugstore finds which also work wonders include the Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer Dry Touch for a non-oily texture; Belo SunExpert Sheer Spray, which provides great, even coverage; and Heliocare SPF 50 Gel, which is good for oily skin. A new discovery is Dr. CRB's Sunblock Gel, a perfect product for daily use--non-sticky, lightweight, and antibacterial. It works well under everyday makeup. 

And as for SPF, know that it only measures protection from UVB. For example, a recommended SPF 15 for everyday use will protect your skin from burning times longer than it usually would without protection. So if your skin normally burns after 10 minutes in the sun, applying products rated SPF 15 should allow you to stay in the sun without burning for approximately 150 minutes. After that, you should reapply. Better yet, opt for double-duty sun care products that work on lightening spots and combating oxidative damage while providing protection.

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About The Author
Nicole Limos
Managing Editor
Nicole’s career in publishing began in 2006. Before becoming Town & Country online’s managing editor, she moved from features editor to beauty editor of the title’s print edition. “The lessons in publishing are countless,” she says. “The most crucial ones for me? That to write best about life, you need to live your life. And another I still struggle to live by: ‘Brevity is a virtue; verbosity is a vice.’”
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