Here's What You Need To Know About UVC Rays

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005_JENA_291_HeatherTalbertPhotographed by Heather Talbert.
Ask any dermatologist to share their number-one skin-saving trick, and the good doctor will always answer: sunscreen. And, thanks to clearer sunscreen labeling regulations implemented by the FDA in 2012, many of us know that a broad spectrum SPF is best because it protects against UVA and UVB rays. But lately, UVC rays have popped up in quite a bit of skin-care marketing, and it has us wondering: Should we be looking for products that protect our skin against these wavelengths as well?

UVC rays sound intense: They’re the sun’s highest energy rays that kick out the shortest wavelength, meaning they have the power to damage DNA. But, before you start looking for sunscreen with UVC blockers or absorbers, consider that most UVC is absorbed by the ozone layer and never reaches the earth’s surface. And, even though there are holes in the ozone (though its depletion has recovered a bit from reaching its peak 5% loss in the early ‘90s, there is still a 3.5% average loss around the globe, according to a 2010 United Nations Environment Programme report), the ozone still does a pretty good job of screening nearly all UVC radiation before reaching ground level and preventing the UV radiation from sterilizing the earth’s surface.

Additionally, organizations like the EPA and Skin Cancer Foundation agree that most UVC is absorbed by the ozone layer and does not hit earth. With this in mind, Dr. Jeffrey M. Weinberg, a dermatologist at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center and Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, concurs that since all UVC should be absorbed by the ozone, any products that claim UVC protection are engaging in marketing hype.

The best skin protection against the sun’s harmful rays? Go for broad-spectrum protection that blocks or absorbs the harmful UVA and UVB rays that actually do extend down to our planet.


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