Understanding The Two Forms Of UV Radiation And How They Can Hurt You

Posted on: 14 July 2017

Whether you're currently dealing with a skin cancer diagnosis or just want to avoid having one in the future, it's important to understand how UV radiation works. Everyone knows that excessive time spent in the sun can cause tans and sunburns, but the science behind UV rays goes further than that. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about UV radiation types and how they can harm you.

Two Kinds

UV radiation comes in different types, with varying effects from each. The two main types of UV radiation you should be concerned about are UVA and UVB radiation. Another form, called UVC, also exists but is filtered out by the atmosphere and doesn't reach the earth's surface. As far as your skin is concerned, you only need to think about UVA and UVB.


UVA radiation is the type of ultraviolet radiation that's most prevalent on the earth's surface. UVA is what causes your skin to tan. However, UVA is also responsible for damaging the deeper layers of your skin. This damage can alter your DNA, resulting in skin cancer further down the road.


UVB radiation isn't as prevalent as UVA, but it's still something you should be wary of. UVB is what causes sunburns and damage to the surface layers of the skin. While UVB isn't immediately responsible for skin cancer, repeated sunburns — especially early in life — can potentially trigger skin cancer later in life. Thankfully, while UVA radiation is able to harm people even while they're indoors or behind glass in a car, UVB isn't as effective at penetrating through glass.


For many years, skin protection from UV radiation only shielded against UVB radiation. Thankfully, science has progressed and most sunscreens also shield you from UVA radiation. If you live in the United States, it's important to make sure that the sunscreen you purchase is labeled as broad-spectrum. This means that it will protect you against both UVB and UVA radiation. If the sunscreen only displays an SPF level and doesn't say it's broad spectrum, you could still be at risk of being exposed to UVA radiation.

Another step you must follow for adequate protection is to ensure you're using enough sunscreen. Simply applying a few drops is not enough to provide the protection promised on the bottle. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one ounce of sunscreen is required to protect all exposed areas of your body. In addition, make sure to reapply your sunscreen regularly after sweating, getting wet, or at least every two hours.

All forms of UV radiation can be dangerous and carry the potential to cause skin damage and skin cancer. If you want to protect your skin from the risk of developing skin cancer, avoid the sun during the brightest part of the day and always wear sunscreen to shield yourself from damaging rays. For additional advice, contact a dermatologist at an office such as Gateway Dermatology PC.