What is UVA and UVB? Guide to sunscreen for adventure sports and travel

Oct 03, 2022 BY Mark Pawlak

Whatever outdoor activities you are into when the sun comes out, so do the boots, boards and boats. When we put ourselves at the mercy of the elements, we also expose ourselves to the sun. So to keep you protected we’ve put together this guide to sunscreen for adventure sports and travel, and answered the question what is UVA and UVB?

What is UVA and UVB guide to sunscreen for adventure sportsHow to be a better surfer flickr creative commons image by miki60

What is UVA and UVB?

You often see UVA and UVB written on sunscreen but also eyewear, clothing and even moisturiser. But what is UVA and UVB? What’s the difference between the two? Do I need protection for both? And how does it affect sunscreen for adventure sports and travel?

We all like a wave – and that’s exactly what UV is, it’s Ultra Violet rays from the sun in the form of waves. They have shorter wavelengths than visible light – that’s why we can’t see UV light. The shorter the wavelength the more damaging it can be – eg X-Rays come next on the spectrum.


UVA is the least intense of the UV light. It passes through clouds, glass and is found year round and makes up almost all of the radiation that we encounter (95 per cent). It penetrates more deeply into the dermis than other UV and is the light that provides most of the tanning.

As UVA does not cause sunburn, it’s only relatively recently that UVA has been identified as dangerous. But we’ve since learned a lot more about how UVA affects the skin, it can be blamed for wrinkles and prematurely ageing the skin, but also is can be a contributing factor to skin cancer and immunity suppression.

What is UVA and UVB guide to sunscreen for adventure sports Wikimedia commons image by Supre.nee


While it’s UVA that tans, oddly it’s UVB that causes sunburn! Spend a few hours without protection and UVB damages the layers of skin nearest the surface (Epidermis) causing the skin to burn. Which is why initially, sun protection advice concentrated on the shortwave (UVB) rays.

UVB also bounces off reflective surfaces such as water or snow, regardless of temperature. This is why it’s equally important to use sunscreen when doing watersports as it is winter sports.


It’s worth mentioning in this guide to UVA and UVB that there are also UVC waves. These are the shortest on the UV spectrum sitting between UVB and X-Rays.

UVC  would be very damaging – it’s used in germicidal lamps to kill bacteria. But fortunately it is almost completely absorbed by the ozone layer, so as long as we don’t lose that it’s nothing to worry about.

Waterfall trekking in El Salvador image by Tamsin Ross Van Lessen

Guide to sunscreen for adventure sports

Now you know the answer to ‘What is UVA and UVB?’ you know you should be protecting yourself from both. Look for products offering broad spectrum protection or one that specifies both UVA and UVB protection. This is not just in sunscreen but also your eyewear and clothing.

And when considering sunscreen for adventure sports and travel remember it probably needs to be waterproof and sweat proof. There is no point in putting it on if then you lose it the first time you get active or take a dip in the water. Also try to choose a healthy sunscreen if you are going to be wearing it all the time.

The once a day suns lotions are particularly good. Remember you need to regularly reapply sun lotion, even the once a day stuff often only lasts six hours. So a top tip in this guide to sunscreen for adventure sports and travel is to read the instructions and follow them.

Travel and sports: What factor sunscreen?

Good advice from experts at the Skin Cancer Foundation is: “Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day to protect against UVB along with some combination of UVA-shielding ingredients. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher”.

View of Mont Blanc during Review of Les Arcs spring snowboarding holiday in Arc 1950

So, whether you want to kiteboard in Tarifa or snowboard in the Alps, if you are going to be out all day slap on factor 30 or higher on all exposed areas. After all, goggle tan or wetsuit tan is never a good look.

And, finally remember the Aussie mantra of “Slip, Slap, Slop”. In direct sunshine in warmer climates always slip on a shirt, slap on a hat and slop on some sunscreen.

We hope this guide to sunscreen for adventure sports has been useful and we adequately answered the question ‘What is UVA and UVB?’. Check out more of our adventure travel and action sport tips here.


Multi Activity
sun protection, Sunscreen

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