Health Check: The ABC’s of UV Radiation

Health Check: The ABC’s of UV Radiation

 UV Index? Numerical ranges? Ultraviolet say whaaat?

You’ve heard people talk about UV Index levels. You’ve seen the numbers in your weather app, but Instagram stories are waaay more interesting bro. Not until after a spontaneous gathering with friends you’ve burned the living hell off your skin and wish you could’ve boarded Doc Brown’s modified DeLorean car to slap yourself in the past. (It’s really real McFly!)

Those numbers are there to help you realize how much armor you’ll need out in the sun. (Not to confuse the crap out of you and then turn a blind eye.)

But first, let’s learn the ABC’s of UV radiation.

This is what you need to know. There are three types of UV radiation- UVA, UVB, and UVC. They all have different wavelengths (invisible light beams, if you will) and two of these penetrate skin at different degrees. AND it’s super destructive - to put it mildly (as if taxes aren’t worrisome enough).

If only we can slather some SPF30 to prevent taxes from killing us. (I’ll take 200 bottles to go, please!)

Weapons of mass destruction... UVA, UVB, and UVC:

The long-wavelength UVA radiation is the champion of all wavelengths. This one doesn’t waste any time. It scorches the surface of your skin right off. Yeah, that’s why you look like a lobster when you forget to put on sunscreen.

Medium-wavelength UVB is biologically active (what the!). So the beams aren’t strong enough to burn through the surface of the skin, but it still causes wrinkles and a yucky leathery appearance? (Yeah basically, lying about your age will become a thing of the past, Elizabeth.) Even though most solar UVB is filtered by the atmosphere, it can still cause havoc such as skin cancer. Yikes! Not a force to take lightly.

Short-wavelength UVC is completely filtered by our atmosphere. (TG)

Discover how to use the UV index

The UV Index scale used in the United States follow international guidelines for UV reporting established by the World Health Organization. (To help you avoid harmful exposure to UV radiation.)


This explains the UV index scale (those numbers in your weather app) perfectly:

  • 0-2 Low: No protection is needed. You will be safe outside with minimum protection.
  • 3-7 Moderate to high: Protection is needed. Some shade will be good during late morning through mid-afternoon. Slather some broad-spectrum SPF-15 (the higher the better) sunscreen on exposed skin, and cover up your skin, wear a wide-brimmed hat, and UV protection glasses.
  • 8+ Very high to extreme: Basically, either stay indoors or take cover, Bruce! Extra precaution is necessary. Lots of broad-spectrum SPF-30+, a humongous hat, and again... UV protection glasses (BTW, we’ll be launching pretty rad sunglasses soon - read about it here).

Side Note: Discover a practical guide of the Global Solar UV Index. Hit this link.

Back to the UV index. Jump straight to the prevention guide or read a fun way to tell how much UV exposure you’re getting. 👇

The Shadow Rule

  • If your shadow is taller than you are (in the morning and late afternoon), your UV exposure is likely to be low.
  • If your shadow is shorter than you are (around the time we’re all generally energy deprived), you need to run for the shade Drake!! Slather your skin. Cover your eyes. Alert the elders and the kids. Do what you have to do to reach safety. People might think you’re crazy now but wait until they start asking why your skin is glowing - then you’ll be the hero.
  • If your shadow is missing, it might be too late for you (or it may just be cloudy 😜). In which case, UV radiation deviously peeps through. The sky is practically a huge reflector (like the ones in the studio that one time Mum made the whole family sit through an uncomfortable photo shoot), but only a thousand times bigger. The clouds filter UV exposure slightly but not enough to prevent damage. You think you’re having a chilled day hanging with your mates (no sunglasses, no cap), meanwhile, the sun is slowly eating away at your skin. Oh crap! 😲

Look, tiny quantities of UV are essential. Do you know those vitamin D’s doctors keep talking about? We need it to be healthy humans. We can’t be walking around like the living dead and pretend everything’s normal. (Like no worries bro, the red will disappear in three days) No siree! Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Overexposure may trigger chronic health effects on your skin, eyes and even your immune system.

So what now? Do we kick off our shoes, slap on a layer of SPF 15 and call it a day?

Uhm. No!

Be Armored. Because prevention is better than a cure!

Follow this prevention guide for an enjoyable outdoor experience whenever and wherever you are. 👇 

  • Seek shade between 10 AM and 4 PM. (the golden rule)
  • Do not burn. (LOL, if you can’t do this, then I can’t help you)
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths. (Being a normal human color is acceptable, Britney.)
  • Armor yourself with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and 100% UV-blocking sunglasses. (Because flakey ears aren’t sexy AND sunglasses are more than a fashion accessory - it’s one simple solution to maintaining healthy vision.)
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply a handful of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes prior to your outdoorsy plans. Keep adding more every two hours, regardless of your activity. Even more will be needed after swimming though.
  • Keep your newborn out of the sun. Period! 
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month. (Get that funky mole off your back Joe!)
  • Visit your dearest physician every year for a professional skin exam.

Check this article about what polarized sunglasses are.


Start with getting your own pair of Swannies Sunnies now.



Celesté Polley


Celesté is a writer, creative photographer, bookworm, pianist, minimalist, environmentalist at heart, professional napper, and Earth wanderer from South Africa, operating in the wellness industry. She is obsessed with books, plants, the moon, and the misunderstood wild Baboon Spiders (a.k.a Tarantulas) of the arachnid world. Her curious nature has her on an unstoppable journey to work with like-minded humans, but also to help people overcome their health and mental struggles.

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