UVA and UVB: Skin Cancer’s Tag Team

Last updated: December 2021

Thanks to increasing advocacy efforts and the use of social media, we are all becoming more educated on the ways the sun can damage our skin.

What are UVA and UVB rays?

Having grown up without the benefit of this knowledge and never having been told to protect myself with sunscreen, I am especially grateful to now know better. I have learned from the mistakes I made over two decades. I wasn’t told about the danger of UV rays until long after my first encounter with skin cancer. UVA and UVB meant nothing to me. I am hoping to change that for you, though.

It's taken a while, but I've learned about skin damage

Since my melanoma diagnosis in 2007, I have done a lot of reading and visited my dermatologist regularly. We have had many a conversation about age spots and sun damage. Over the years, I have learned a few things about the damage caused by the sun. Knowing the difference between the two most common types of UV rays is important, but knowing exactly how it can wreck your skin is more important.

UVA: "A" stands for "aging"

I don’t remember where I first heard this, but it helps a lot in understanding how UVA rays damage skin. UVA rays are the ones that give us that tanned look. Whether by sunlight or tanning bed, UVA light is responsible for the wrinkles we fight and the signs of aging against which we rage. According to MD Anderson in Texas, 95% of the ultraviolet rays we encounter are UVA. Those odds don’t sound like anything to play with, do they?

UVB: "B” stands for "burning"

If you can remember that the B in UVB stands for burning, you’ll be able to remember that these rays are the ones causing burns and other types of topical damage. When it comes to skin cancers, including melanoma, UVB rays are primarily the ones to blame. It wasn’t until I did some digging for this article that I realized UVB light contributes to the formation of cataracts, which is just another reason to protect every part of our bodies from the sun’s rays.

Defending yourself against the double team effect

Both types of UV light are beasts on their own, but together? Whew - they are a dynamic duo, and one you don’t want to face alone. Protecting your skin becomes even more important when you realize that UVA rays are able to penetrate the skin far beyond UVB rays, while UVB rays linger on the skin waiting to give you that sunburn that leads to even more damage down the road.

Sunscreen is your kryptonite

There is not doubt about it. Whether you choose chemical or mineral, sunscreen is one of your best defenses against UV rays. It is worth noting that The University of Iowa reports that chemical sunscreens are typically more effective at defending us against UVB rays than UVA. Therefore, it is increasingly important for all of us to find ways to cover our skin and protect our eyes. Sunglasses, UPF clothing, avoiding tanning salons, and limiting outdoor activity during peak hours of sunlight can go a long way toward shielding our bodies from UV rays.

What we don’t know can hurt us, and the lack of information about the sun’s damaging effects is a big one that is finally being widely addressed!

What do you know now about protecting your skin that you wish you had known years ago? Share with us in the comments!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The SkinCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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