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Ultraviolet: The Light Beyond our Vision

The pros and cons of uv radiation

issue eleven : tactile colour

By Khandiz Joni

I’m going to recommend you get yourself a beverage and a light snack while you settle in to read our latest instalment to issue eleven. This article is long, but it’s an interesting one. So if you’re as fascinated with science or colour (or both) as I am, then this one is for you.

Understanding UV is far more than just about sun protection and what SPF we need. It’s intrinsically connected to so much in our daily lives. It provides us with lots of exciting opportunities for beauty, wellbeing and beyond, which is why I have decided to include it in our Tactile Colour theme.  

The Science

Ultraviolet light is a type of electromagnetic radiation. Photons radiate out at a wavelength of 10nm – 400nm (nm=nanometers), providing us with an electromagnetic spectrum. This spectrum is then further divided into the three subsections, which most of us are familiar with. UVA, UVB and UVC. When grouped as two or more, this is termed broadspectrum.

UV has a shorter wavelength than visible light (which allows our eyes to synthesise the photons so our brains can see colour), but longer than Xray.

The Sun is one of our most significant natural sources of ultraviolet light (but not our only sources), providing broadspectrum UV to Earth. We cannot see UV light, but we know it exists thanks to some clever chap named Johann Ritter. Ritter knew that photographic paper exposed faster in blue light than in red light, so he conducted an experiment that exposed the paper to light beyond violet, and the paper turned black. Proving that there was indeed invisible light. The other glorious thing that came from the experiment was the inspiration of Storm Thorgerson to create that iconic album cover for Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The Moon.”

Pink Floyd, Dark Side Of The Moon album cover.
Artwork designed by Storm Thorgerson.

Thanks to scientific advancements and biomimicry (think Arora Borealis), we now also get artificial UV light. Made by passing an electric current through mercury or other gases. The beauty and wellbeing industry has benefited from this with the likes of tanning booths, lights to set gel nails, curing lights used by your dentist and UV lights to make your favourite neon face paint pop

Despite our inferior human ability to see ultraviolet light, it does not mean that all species aren’t capable of doing so. According to NASA, bees, insects, birds and even some species of reptile can indeed see these lightwaves bouncing off plants!

Research presented in an article by The Astrophysical Journal goes so far as to say that UV light might even be responsible for our origins here on Earth. Imagine, that without UV radiation, we might not be sitting here today pondering on all the glorious colours we are privileged to experience?

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

UV rays are often lumped together as radiation emitted from the Sun. Some awful things that cause skin cancer. In this instance, I will simply refer to it as ‘sunbeams’. This isn’t the whole story, however. There is a fair amount of scientific evidence to suggest that the health benefits of (some) unprotected sun exposure (and in turn ultraviolet rays) may, in fact, outweigh the risks from overexposure. Not to mention help bees do the amazing job they are doing pollinating flower plants that provide us with food). What’s even more interesting, is that some cancers such as Lymphoma, and other skin conditions such as Psoriasis and Vitiligo use UV light as a treatment, known as PUVA.

 Let’s take a look at the three subsections of UV rays in a little more detail. 

UVA

Tanlines
“Summer Stripes” from issue two. Image by Thea Baddiley.

 Also known as longwave ultraviolet (from 315 nm to 400 nm). They can easily penetrate the atmosphere and reach the Earth’s surface and is the closest to visible light. It activates melanin production in our skin, which is what gives us a tan when we’re exposed to it. Tanning is our bodies first line of defence against the absorption of UV radiation which can alter DNA.

UVA also associated with premature ageing, because of its ability to breakdown skin elasticity. While not a great deal is known about why UVA causes ageing, a popular hypothesis, according to WHO, is that it increases oxidative stress on our cells. And as you know from reading other science-backed articles from UNTAINTED, oxidation of our cells aren’t all that great for our looks. Hence us crushing on anti-oxidants!

UVB

Despite its reputation for burning, UVB isn’t all bad. It’s actually essential in our bodies ability to produce Vitamin D. Vit D, in turn, provides us with a wealth of health benefits. Everything from preventing scurvy, to lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, and supporting our mental health and wellbeing by being an active participant in our brains’ ability to manufacture Serotonin – amongst others.

UVB has a medium wavelength of between 280–315 nm. While too much of it can certainly do more harm than good to our bodies, only about 5% actually reaches Earth’s surface. The other 95% is caught by Ozone in the atmosphere. All the more reason why we need to continue to ditch the aerosols that are responsible for creating a giant hole in the Ozone layer!

Thank goodness for mineral sunscreens that help prevent the damaging effects of broadspectrum UV radiation that the atmosphere might miss.

UVC

UVC has the shortest wavelength of the UV spectrum, which runs between 180–280 nm. It’s also sometimes referred too as ‘far radiation’ for its inability to reach us thanks again to Earth’s nifty atmosphere. Which is a good thing really, because broadspectrum UVC is the most harmful to us thanks to its propensity to cause skin cancer

Our eyes are the most sensitive and susceptible to UVC damage. The most common source of radiation from wavelength doesn’t come from the Sun but is emitted from welder’s arc lights and other artificial sources. 

In the same way that UVC can dramatically alter our DNA (thereby causing cancer), it’s also very effective at killing bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. In essence, UVC is an ingenious germicide that doesn’t require a single harmful chemical!

UV Tech

Aside from those already mentioned, the untainted beauty and wellness industry is looking to UV from some innovative uses of the technology. Two of the most interesting are:

Black Glass

Ahh, the simple, sophisticated black bottle in beauty. For most people, a slick, sexy black glass bottle is precisely that. For those in the know (and for those that didn’t, now you do) black glass actually serves far more of a purpose than just looking pretty on the shelf. The black glass (aka ultraviolet glass) is designed to protect the formulation inside from the harmful events of UV on cell DNA. Lest we not forget, many untainted alternatives are filled with what were once living, breathing plants. Which, yep, you guessed it, contain DNA that becomes oxidised by exposure to UV light. 

Some of our favourite untainted brands have opted to use black glass to protect their formulations in limit the need for contentious synthetic preservatives such as parabens.

Twelve Beauty in UV glass bottles - Image by Richard Pengelley
Twelve Beauty uses black glass to protect their formulations

The LARQ Bottle

I know, I know…another plastic-free water bottle is no longer a novelty into today’s growing zero-waste landscape. LARQ, however, is a plastic-free water bottle with a difference! They have harnessed the germicidal properties of UVC to actually clean the water and sanitise the container without the use of soap, water, and drying time. That’s if you even get round to properly cleaning and sanitising your reusable water bottles in the first place? 

That’s nearly as miraculous as Jesus turning water into wine (except this is actual science and not a religious fable). Not only are you drinking from a plastic-free vessel, but you can also fill up directly from any tap, regardless of the water quality by neutralising up to 99.9999%* of harmful, odour-causing bacteria**.

All the magic happens inside the bottle, thanks to a long-life rechargeable battery stored in the cap, and their patented UVC LED Technology. Of course, this kind of tech does come with a bit of a hefty price tag. But, if you can afford it (or are willing to save up for it), the benefits (no need to buy expensive replacement filters, no harsh chemicals or mercury required to kill germs, the ability to fill up anywhere and to really be able to stake a claim in a zero-waste lifestyle) far outway the cost. 

Image via livelarq.com

It also helps that they come in an array of eye-catching colours to suit all tastes. 

*in Adventure Mode

**Tested against E.coli

Untainted Magazine is 100% independent and self-funded through my work as a freelance makeup artist. As I am unable to work as a freelancer at this time, I’d ask that if you enjoyed this piece, please consider making a small donation. I promise that, regardless of the amount, it will go towards ensuring I am still able to produce unique and engaging content that responsibly promotes beauty brands putting animals, people and the Planet first.





untainted |ˌənˈtān(t)əd| adjective
not contaminated, polluted, or tainted: the paper was untainted by age.

UNTAINTED is a directional beauty platform, pushing the boundaries of clean, sustainable beauty. We are inspired and motivated by the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi.

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