What is Ultraviolet Light? (And, Why Your “Mineral” Sunscreen Doesn’t Work)

What is Ultraviolet Light? (And, Why Your “Mineral” Sunscreen Doesn’t Work)

As surfers, we hear about “UVA and UVB protection” and see it on labels…

But what actually is UVA and UVB? And why do we want to protect against them?

In this blog post, you’ll learn:
  • A simple explanation of UV light
  • The different types of UV rays — including UVA and UVB
  • Why you’re risking your health with mineral sunscreens

Plus, lots more. Let’s dive in.

What is Ultraviolet (UV) light?

To understand ultraviolet (UV), we need to first understand electromagnetic radiation.

In the universe, there are waves of energy flowing through the air, water, our bodies, the earth, outer space… everything in the universe has waves of energy flowing through it.

Some of these waves are long and some are short.

You can think of long waves like lazy, rolling sets in the ocean you’d need a longboard to ride. And short waves like the pounding sets with short intervals close together at your local beach break.

When we break it down: Long waves are lower energy, and short waves are higher energy.

Examples of UV rays

An image of various waves of energy that we are familiar with and their respective wavelengths.

The wavelength most people know is visible light, which we can see with our eyes. The light wavelength is a very small portion of the energy that flows all around us, but we can see it.

And just after visible light, there’s a range of energy waves called UV light.

These waves are not detectable by our eyes, but our skin can absorb and feel these waves. UV light is what cause sun burns, skin damage, and skin cancer. 😱

The most common source of UV on earth comes from the sun:

  • UVC is the high-energy UV waves and the most harmful to human skin. Fortunately, nearly all UVC from the sun is absorbed by the atmosphere and never reaches the earth’s surface.
  • UVB is the mid-energy UV that’s very damaging to the skin… and can make it through the atmosphere. UVB can cause sunburns and skin cell damage that can lead to cancer. About 5% of the UV that reaches the earth’s surface is UVB, the majority of UVB is absorbed by the ozone layer.
  • UVA is the low-energy UV, and these “low” energy rays are still responsible for skin damage and cell damage. UVA makes up the bulk of UV that reaches the earth’s surface (about 95%.) Your skin is mostly exposed to UVA.
Comparing the length of UV rays
This image describes the breakdown of wavelengths between UVA, UVB, and UVC.

Let’s take a look at a practical example of how UV intensity and wavelength looks in our lives.

In the chart below, we can see how much UVA and UVB intensity reaches our skin on an average day in San Diego, CA. ☀️

Breakdown of San Diego UV spectrums

This illustration shows UV intensity (y axis) vs UV length (x axis) in San Diego.

There are two main takeaways from how UVA & UVB interacts with us in San Diego, and other locations like yours:

  • On the UVB spectrum, the intensity is pretty low which is good for our skin
  • UVA intensity is much greater and gets more intense as the wavelengths increase (the highest intensity region of UVA is above 375nm)

This matches up with what we explained earlier — 5% of the rays that hit your skin are UVB, and 95% is UVA.

Does your sunscreen actually protect you?

Since UVA accounts for 95% of the rays that impact — and can damage — your skin, it’s important to make sure your sunscreen protects you.

Here’s a big problem: popular “mineral” sunscreens start to lose performance in the high intensity UVA region. After about 375nm, they lose effectiveness quickly. 🚨

Albedo’s enhanced, patent-pending “triple layer” formula that uses natural UV absorption techniques from plants provides better protection in the high intensity UVA region.

Here’s a chart from our lab tests that show Albedo gives more comprehensive protection overall. 🤗

Albedo compared to other brands

This chart shows lab tests we ran against Albedo — and it came back 60% more effective than other leading brands.

What are the key takeaways?

When you’re buying sunscreen — especially as a surfer who’s out in the sun for multi-hour sessions — you need to look for something that protects against both UVA and UVB.

  • UVC is the worst, but essentially none reaches your skin.
  • UVB is pretty bad and generally the culprit for skin cancer.
  • UVA is the most abundant and causes skin damage, DNA lesions, and premature aging.

Unfortunately, most popular, off-the-shelf mineral sunscreens people buy lose effectiveness in the high intensity UVA range — so your skin is still exposed to harmful rays.

We created Albedo because we wanted better coverage using natural ingredients (including blocking where mineral sunscreens don’t block). So your skin can be protected in the water, and out.

Check out Albedo products here. Made for surfers, by surfers we offer 100% natural, water-resistant, SPF 30+ triple-protection sunscreen (and after-surf moisturizer).