Understanding UV: Not So Groovy (+ Way Trickier Than Diana Originally Thought)
Before moving to Florida, I always thought the highest UV index was a 10. Pourquoi? Because I hadn’t recalled seeing anything higher while watching my good friend Janice Huff, Chief Meteorologist at WNBC-TV, file her next-day forecasts every night before bed.
Basically, I was into the Barbie version of the UV index. For me, it predicted a good mood-and-hair day (lotsa sun, no humidity) or not.
Getting ready for our Florida move turned that notion on its head. My new antagonist became the sunny weather. Not knowing anything about how powerful it was, I remember my first time on a flats boat with my (then) new husband. It was July 2014, and we were working on our Isles of Capri fixer-upper. He wanted to take a fishing break in our new locale, and I prepared to look cute as he loves taking pictures of me when I’m not looking, then posting them to Facebook without permission.
I was ready for his stealth photography this time: just-blown hair, Tom Ford sunnies, a cool yellow linen blouse scored during the Barneys Warehouse sale, white linen shorts. Sunscreen-wise, I used what I packed from my NYC life, a tube of Caudalie’s Polyphenol C15 (broad spectrum 20) on my face and Coppertone 15 on my body.
Reality hit not 10 minutes from our dock when I was M I S E R A B LE. The sun was too strong and there was nowhere to escape. That one instance changed my outlook (and unfortunately my skin for the next week as I suffered a sun-induced rash), forcing me to re-evaluate what to wear on the water and for other longish periods of time outdoors when more protection is warranted.
In two years of living here, my arms are spotted from the sun, and while I definitely love the sun-kissed boosted color on my skin, it’s no longer is Ivory Girl creamy (true confession: I used that term on several dating sites throughout my 30s and 40s.)
Post-FBP’s luxe Avène giveaway, I reached out to Janice with my questions (she’s a Florida State alum) and she put me in touch with one of the state’s leading authorities, Dr. Jon Ahlquist, a meteorologist on the faculty of the Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
FBP: How far up does the UV index go?
AHLQUIST: The UV Index (sometimes abbreviated as UVI) is a measurement of the amount of ultraviolet light, and so the index has no upper limit. The more UV there is, the higher the index value.
FBP: How is this determined on a daily basis?
AHLQUIST: The UVI is calculated using both the UVA and UVB parts of the ultraviolet spectrum. UVA is the part of the ultraviolet spectrum that is just beyond what our eyes can see. It can go through both the epidermis and the dermis layers of our skin. UVB is further beyond the limits of what our eyes can see. UVB only penetrates the epidermis (outer skin layer).
FBP: What’s the highest recorded UVI?
AHLQUIST: On Dec. 29, 2003, a world-record UV index of 43.3 was detected at Bolivia's Licancabur volcano. A radiation detector left on the 19,423-foot-tall (5,920 meters) peak picked up the extreme spike in UV-B radiation during the Southern Hemisphere summer. If you’re traveling to the Andes, the typical UVI reading is well above the mid-20s.
FBP: I love the sun but my irregular SPF applications go toward spending an hour+ outside, not for car trips. Is that a bad move? Do UV rays really come through car and airplane windows?
AHLQUIST: Glass in general blocks UVB, and front windshields are treated so that they also block UVA, but side and rear windows pass UVA, so car drivers tend to have more skin problems on the left side of their face and on their left arm from exposure to UV. Windows in airplanes are not treated to block UV.
(FBP note here: those windows are excellent for weeding out stray facials hairs. Just ask Elizabeth Hurley.)
(NOTE FROM DANA: Just this past weekend, I was staring at a cluster of stubborn brown spots on my right cheek and thought to myself: 'Since I only started driving in earnest three years ago, these damn spots must be from my decades as a passenger, not driver!' I'm happy to have corroboration on that via Diana's chat with Dr. Ahlquist. Although corroboration won't get rid of the spots. Grrrr....)
Helpful reader links
provided by Dr. Ahlquist:
- UVI and the significance of the values: Environmental Protection Agency website
- How the UVI is calculated
- UVI maps of average monthly values for Florida
- Florida's weekly UVI forecast
Two years post-move, my skin damage is most notable on my arms and newly developed clinkles (cleavage wrinkles). In what seems like an often futile attempt to prevent further damage, I’ve incorporated new items into my wardrobe and beauty closet to augment sunscreen:
SPF 50 hats from splurge-worthy Eric Javits or the chicly affordable Wallaroo and Cabana Life guard your pretty face. Try wide-brimmed styles for full coverage, and step outside to check if the rays are blocked during full-on sunshine. Keep in mind that visors will help your skin, but if you color your hair, a true hat offers better protection from oxidization.
SPF clothing - I won’t go on the boat without donning an Ibkül zip-polo to cover my neck, chest and arms. (See pic below.) Knowing hereditary jowls are in my future, there’s no need to supplement them with saggy skin.
Polarized Sunglasses to prevent eye crinkles and damage leading to cataracts.
Bliss Ingrown Hair Eliminating Pads formulated with both alpha and beta hydroxy acids perform double-duty beauty: it’s designed to treat ingrown hairs, but really helps with the skin texture and spots on my face, hands and arms.
Don't forget your hands, which are more age-revealing than your face. Apply sunscreen and perhaps consider a peel at your dermatologist's office. Fun anecdote: circa 1992 is when I first connected with Dana, then Beauty Director for W magazine, pitching her a story on chemical peeling of the hands to minimize age spots. Treat your hands as well as your purty face.