Don't Be a Victim of Rays

It's the middle of winter and the last thing on your mind is probably slathering on some sunscreen. But simply sitting under fluorescent lights affects your skin, according to Elise Danh, licensed cosmetologist and esthetician.

You’ve probably heard about UVA and UVB rays at some point in your life. Our parents always told us to make sure we put sunblock or sunscreen on before going out in the sun. But we should all wear some kind of protection all the time, not just when we are going outside.

We’re talking about UV rays. The “U” stands for “Ultra” and the “V” stands for “Violet” – “Ultraviolet” rays. Rays, in general, are put into categories based on their wavelength, according to But there's a difference between UVA and UVB rays.

  • UVB rays are labeled as the “tanning ray” because they are the strongest during the summer months when the earth is closest to the sun and only penetrate the top layer of the skin, or the “epidermis.” UVB rays usually burn the skin. Hence the term "sunburn."
  • UVA rays, on the other hand, have the same strength all year round. They are considered a “light X ray” because they penetrate through light clothing, windshields, hats, and windows. They can penetrate the first layer of skin into the second layer or the “dermis,” which is known as our “true skin.” FYI – your “true skin” stops renewing itself after age 28. So, any damage done to your skin after that age most likely won’t be fully mended, according to

UVA rays have long been associated with the typical fluorescent light bulbs commonly used in most homes and office buildings, Danh said, and they can have damaging effects. Danh uses this example: Think of a piece of fabric or a book that you leave on a coffee table under the lamp. Have you ever noticed the color of the fabric or book fade if exposed long enough? UVA rays are equally doing the same to our skin, Danh said.

So we should be wearing protection indoors as well as outdoors to decrease our chances of skin damage. When it comes to SPF and sunblock versus sunscreen, here's what you need to know:

  • Sun Protection Factor (SPF) protects us from burning, especially UVB rays. The number behind the SPF denotes how long we will be protected.
  • “Many people often think the higher the SPF, the more protection they will have, when really all it means is you have longer protection from burning, not stronger protection against it,” Danh said.
  • Use an SPF of 15-30 daily and reapply when necessary, Danh advised. Danh also suggested using moisturizers that have built in sunscreens.
  • Sunscreen and sunblocks are different. Sunblocks physically deflect the rays and give a broader protection against them whereas sunscreens chemically absorb the UV rays, Danh said.
  • While sunscreens are usually applied 20-30 minutes before sun or light exposure so that the chemicals in the product have time to penetrate the skin, sunblocks can be applied right before the exposure.

Elise Thuy-Hang Danh is a licensed cosmetologist and esthetician. Click here to read more about Elise in "The Face Behind the Make-Up"

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