We Know What UVA & UVB Rays Do To Our Skin, But What About Infrared Light?

photographed by Ana Larruy
By now, applying SPF as part of your morning skincare routine should be second nature. Come rain or shine, UVA and UVB rays from the sun can result in all manner of skin concerns, from skin cancer to burns, pigmentation to fine lines, so whether you opt for a slathering of SPF moisturiser or prefer to apply a separate sunscreen on top of your skincare, there's no doubt it's incredibly important for maintaining your skin's health.
Enter: infrared radiation.
According to WGSN, data presented by Estée Lauder Companies at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Investigative Dermatology raised the need for protection against infrared radiation. They found that infrared radiation, otherwise known as IRA, actually penetrates the skin deeper than UV and visible light, with about 50% reaching the dermis, the layer where wrinkles are formed. As a result of infrared on the skin, the study noted excessive collagen breakdown, excessive growth of blood vessels and a weakening of the skin's matrix - in other words, fine lines.
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But what exactly is infrared light?
Firstly, it's important to note that sunlight is made up of multiple wavelengths of light. "These include ultraviolet (UV) radiation, visible light (VL) and infra-red (IR)," explained consultant dermatologist at Skin 55 and author of The Skincare Bible, Dr. Anjali Mahto. "We've all heard about UV radiation when it comes to sun protection and sunscreen use. UVA is generally considered to be the ray associated with 'skin ageing' and UVB with skin reddening or burning. About 10% of solar radiation is UV, 40% is visible light, and 50% is infrared light."
She continues: "Infrared-A radiation has been linked in some studies to the breakdown of collagen," a natural protein in skin which keeps it looking and feeling plump and pillowy. "Infrared light may also cause pigmentation changes, such as melasma, or 'age spots'," says Dr. Mahto.
That said, the scientific data isn't that straight forward when it comes to infrared. "It has been argued that the amount of infrared used in some studies is much higher than what one would receive from direct sunlight," said Dr. Mahto, who also mentions that infrared could actually be positive for the skin. "At the quantities we receive from sunlight, infrared may be of benefit to the skin and ultimately the effects (either positive or negative) come down to the intensity itself," she said. "The cosmetics industry, however, has demonised these wavelengths and the cynic in me would say that is to sell more products."
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With that in mind, you can make an informed choice as to whether you want to take preventative measures by incorporating infrared protection into your skincare routine, especially when the weather is sunny, or if your skin is prone to pigmentation. Estée Lauder highlighted antioxidants as the most effective shield. Although pricey, Dr. Mahto rates Skinceuticals' Phloretin CF, £150, but suggests the Vichy Liftactiv Vitamin C Skin Brightening Corrector, £21, is just as good at providing antioxidant protection. Both are serums, so apply to clean, dry skin in the morning and follow with moisturiser and SPF. Think of it as the first layer.
For obvious reasons, SPF is also a must. "At present, most standard sunscreens will offer protection against UVA and UVB but not against the additional wavelengths of light," says Dr. Mahro, "but I still think it is worthwhile finding a sunscreen which offers additional protection against these wavelengths."
For acne prone skin especially, Dr. Mahro recommends Heliocare's 360 gel Oil-Free SPF 50, £31, which is non-comedogenic (meaning it won't block your pores), touch dry and compatible with darker skin tones. As a budget alternative try Solero's Triple Defence Range.
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