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What the Heck Are UV Rays, Anyways?

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By: burgundy bug

Sunlight peeking through the cloud

Source: Sunset 01 | Penelope Peru Photography p3

Ultraviolet (UV) light is radiated from the sun and tanning lamps. Overexposure can cause UV radiation, which the American Cancer Society says is a major cause of skin cancer.

UV waves are invisible to the human eye because they have a shorter length than other visible light, according to NASA.

However, that doesn’t mean they’re invisible to all life. Certain insects, like bees, can see UV light. Research published in The Royal Society found that dogs, cats, ferrets, and reindeer can also see the UV spectrum.

The UV spectrum was discovered by John Ritter when he embarked on a scientific journey to discover energy beyond the violet end of the spectrum visible to humans in 1801, NASA states.

“Even though UV rays make up only a very small portion of the sun’s rays, they are the main cause of the sun’s damaging effects on the skin.

UV rays damage the DNA of skin cells. Skin cancers start when this damage affects the DNA of genes that control skin cell growth.”

American Cancer Society

Different Types of UV Rays

There are three different types of UV rays. That’s why it’s important to select broad spectrum sunscreens, which block both UVA and UVB rays, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports.

Read: What the Heck is SPF, Anyways?

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UVA rays are linked to long term skin damage, such as premature aging, and some skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

The AAD also states that UVA rays can pass through window glass.


The American Cancer Society says UVB rays have a bit more energy than UVA rays. They are the main culprit behind sunburn and have the ability to directly damage skin cells’ DNA – thus, they are thought to be the most common cause of skin cancer.

However, UVB rays are blocked by window glass, according to the AAD.


Although UVC rays have the most energy, the American Cancer Society says they do not penetrate our atmosphere and are not found in sunlight. Thus, they are not a common cause of skin cancer.

UV Radiation

Only UVA and UVB rays reach the Earth, and both can be damaging to the skin if proper precautions aren’t taken.

Additionally, there are factors that affect the strength of UV rays.

  • UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • UV rays are stronger during spring and summer months.
  • UV rays are more present at higher elevations.
  • UV rays can be blocked or reflected by clouds.
  • UV rays can be reflected off of surfaces such as water, snow, sand, pavement, and grass.

In Conclusion

UV rays are invisible to the human eye, but be careful; overexposure can be detrimental to the skin.

Want to learn more about caring for your skin during the summer months? Head on over to this article!

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burgundy bug


A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. You can learn more about working with burgundy bug by visiting her portfolio website: burgundybug.com

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