New: A treatment designed for rosacea-prone skin

New: A treatment designed for rosacea-prone skin

By edit
Face care
Stage of skin ageing
Body and hair care
By concern
Skin diagnostic
Library
All Topics
Indice UV.

What is the UV index?

Used worldwide and updated daily, the UV index informs us about the strength of the sun's rays that reach the ground. It thus serves to alert us to the risks that excessive sun exposure can pose, and to adopt the right sun behaviour to avoid any skin damage. Low, moderate, high, very high, extreme... let's explore together what this index is, what it precisely means and how to interpret it.

The UV index, what does this parameter signify?

Adopted in 1994 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the UV index, also known as the universal solar radiation index, is a standard international indicator that informs us every day of the degree of intensity of the UV radiation emitted by the sun that reaches the Earth's surface in the middle of the day, when the sun's elevation is at its maximum, and at a given location.

An instruction not to be confused with thesun protection factor (SPF) indicated on the packaging of sun care products.

This parameter thus allows us to understand and assess the risks posed by excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays for the skin (sunburn, skin cancer...), and not on the risks of eye damage (cataracts, corneal inflammation, eye cancer...), contrary to what one might think.

The UV index is communicated for a period of 2 to 4 hours around solar noon. This information is widely disseminated on the Internet, in the media or via weather applications for mobile phones in order to raise awareness among the population, and to encourage a change in sun exposure habits and behaviour.

The UV index is based on the erythemal action spectrum (skin reddening). It is presented on a scale without a ceiling, ranging from 1 to 11+ and depends on numerous factors:

  • The latitude: The lower the latitude, the higher the UV index. Therefore, it is higher in equatorial regions than in temperate zones, due to the lower solar zenith angle than at high latitudes;

  • The season: Its peak is reached at the summer solstice (around June 21 in the northern hemisphere and December 21 in the southern hemisphere);

  • Solar Time:The UV index is stronger during the two hours before and after solar noon , when the sun is at its highest (short shadows). Depending on the geographical location and whether or not solar time is applied, solar noon falls between 11am and 4pm in the afternoon;

  • Thealtitude: It increases by 2 to 5% every 1,000 metres despite the drop in temperature. In other words, high-altitude sites (mountains) receive more UV radiation than those located near sea level at low altitude, as the atmosphere is thinner and therefore absorbs less UV rays;

  • The reflection of rays : Depending on the surface, UV rays are more or less reflected or scattered. For instance, fresh snow can reflect about 80% of UV rays, dry sand approximately 15%, and sea foam present on the surface of oceans around 10%;

  • The cloud cover: Clouds can significantly reduce UV rays and visible solar radiation depending on their density, although they do not significantly absorb UV radiation. Indeed, if the cloud layer is thick then the UV index will be low; on the other hand, in the case of thinner clouds, the UV index will be high because the radiation is less filtered;

  • The ozone layer: Its thickness determines the amount of UV radiation that reaches the ground, and can vary depending on the time of year and even during the day. Thus, a decrease (or increase) of 1% in stratospheric ozone leads to an increase (or decrease) of about 1.2% in the UV index. Indeed, ozone acts as a natural "absorber" of UVB radiation, just like nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.

Note: The UV index is never dependent on temperature: UV rays do not generate heat. It is possible to be exposed to UV rays in both summer and winter. Therefore, cold weather does not protect against a high dose of radiation

How to interpret the UV index and what recommendations should be followed?

UV rays are categorised into five levels of risk:

  • UV Index of 1 to 2: A UV index of 1 or 2 is a low UV index, meaning that it only poses a small risk of sunburn. However, individuals with a light phototype or sensitive skin may experience tingling or even irritation on exposed areas;

  • UV Index of 3 to 5: A UV index of 3 to 5 is considered moderate;

  • UV Index of 6 to 7: A UV index of 6 or 7 is high. UV rays can damage the skin and cause sunburn;

  • UV Index of 8 to 10: A UV index of 8 to 10 is a very high UV index. If the skin is not protected, it will be damaged and can burn quickly;

  • UV Index 11+ : A UV index higher than 11 is referred to as an extreme UV index. The risk of skin damage is then very high, thus it takes less time (a few minutes) to get sunburned.

In other words, the higher the UV index, the less time it takes to get a sunburn.

From the figures provided, it is thus possible to take precautionary measures to combat its harmful effects:

Ultraviolet Index (UVI)Risk LevelRecommended Photoprotection
1 to 2MildNo protection required. Wear a pair of sunglasses with a UV filter during sunny days. Apply a sun protection product with a broad-spectrum protection factor of at least 20 (SPF 20) to exposed areas for fair phototypes and people with sensitive skin.
3 to 5ModerateWhen outdoors, generously apply a broad-spectrum sun protection product with a minimum sun protection factor of 30 (SPF 30) to exposed areas. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, covering clothing (long-sleeved) made from tightly woven fabrics, and sunglasses with a UV filter. Seek shade from late morning to mid-afternoon. Do not expose children under the age of 3 years.
6 to 7RaisedSeek shade, especially during periods of intense sun exposure (between 11am and 3pm). When outdoors, generously apply a broad-spectrum sun protection product with a minimum sun protection factor of 50 (SPF 50) to exposed areas. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, covering clothing (long-sleeved) made from tightly woven fabrics, and sunglasses with a UV filter. Do not expose children under the age of 3 years.
8 to 10Extremely highStay indoors during periods of high sun exposure (between 11am and 3pm). Generously apply a broad-spectrum sun protection product with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF 50). Wear a wide-brimmed hat, covering clothing (long-sleeved) made from tightly woven fabrics, and sunglasses with a UV filter. Do not expose children under the age of 3 years.
> 11ExtremeAvoid going outside during periods of high sun exposure (between 11am and 3pm), and aim to stay indoors. Generously apply a sun protection product with a minimum broad-spectrum protection factor of 50 (SPF 50). It is essential to cover up by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with UV filters, and covering clothing (long-sleeved) made from tightly woven fabrics. Do not expose children under the age of 3 years.

CAUTION! The recommendations given in relation to the UV index do not take into account the risks associated with UVA and phototype.

Sources

  • PAULIN K. J. & al. Effects of snow cover on UV irradiance and surface albedo: A case study. Journal of Geophysical Research (1998).

  • GONZÀLEZ J.-A. & al. Empirical studies of cloud effects on UV radiation: A review. Reviews of Geophysics (2005).

  • FERGUSSON A. & al. The UV index: definition, distribution and factors affecting it. Canadian Journal of Public Health (2010).

  • GERBER N. & al. Validity and use of the UV index: report from the UVI Working Group, Schloss Hohenkammer, Germany, 5—7 December 2011. Health Physics (2012).

  • REHFUESS E. A. & al. Is the global solar UV index an effective instrument for promoting sun protection? A systematic review. Health Education Research (2012).

  • TURNER J. & al. Evaluation of the cloudy sky solar UVA radiation exposures. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology (2014).

  • SASAKI H. & al. UV index does not predict ocular ultraviolet exposure. Translational Vision Science & Technology (2021).

Diagnostic

Understand your skin
and its complex needs.

Go further: