5 tips to stay sun-safe

After a long winter, we’re finally greeted by beautiful, sunny days. It’s natural to want to spend as much time as possible outside but first it’s important to know the best ways to protect you and your family against the harmful effects of the sun. It’s essential for your overall health to keep sun safety top of mind year round!

Dr. Cheryl Rosen, head, division of dermatology, UHN shares some helpful tips to stay sun-safe this summer season and beyond. 

1. Sunscreen: an important defence for sun protection

Dr. Cheryl Rosen, head, division of dermatology, UHN. (Photo courtesy: Dr. Cheryl Rosen)

Sunscreen not only protects your skin from sunburns but can also help prevent photoaging (when the sun prematurely ages the skin) and skin cancer. When selecting a sunscreen, look for a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) 30 or higher and labeled broad spectrum to protect against both ultraviolet B and ultraviolet A (UVB and UVA) radiation. It’s helpful to look for the Canadian Dermatology Association logo on the bottle. Sunscreen is not a “set and forget it” method. Health Canada advises to reapply sunscreen every two hours, but more frequently after swimming, sweating or towelling.

“Sunscreen is a very important part of overall sun protection. Keep it out on your counter next to your toothbrush so you remember to put it on everyday. Sunscreens help prevent DNA damage in skin cells, photoaging and decrease your risk of skin cancer.”- Dr. Rosen.

2. Cover up

You’ll need more than one defence against the sun. In addition to wearing sunscreen, wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible and opt for wide-brimmed hats (covering the head, face, ears and back of the neck) and 100 per cent UV protection sunglasses. Clothing adds a lot of UV protection, especially if the fabric is tightly woven. Wearing clothing with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) on the label can be helpful.

“UPF on clothing indicates the amount of protection that’s been tested to decrease the amount of UV getting through fabric. UPF clothing is helpful but not necessary. If you’re wearing tightly woven clothing, less sun will come through, but if you’re wearing loose fitting clothing, UV can reach your skin.”      – Dr. Rosen.

3. Know your skin

Everyone’s skin is different and unique. It’s important to know what works for you based on the type of skin you have.

People with fair skin are naturally more susceptible to sunburns and should take extra care in the sun. This includes people with red hair, freckles, moles and people with a family history of skin cancer and more. Certain medications or creams can also make your skin more sun sensitive. People with darker skin need to consider sun safety too.

“People with black or brown skin have more melanin in their skin. The melanin is packaged differently in skin cells so the skin is more protected. Melanin is very protective against UV exposure. People with darker skin may be susceptible to visible light (daylight) which can increase skin pigmentation, particularly when there are skin conditions that already increase pigmentation. Iron oxide is a new ingredient in some sunscreens that protects people against visible light and the increase in pigmentation. A few sunscreens in Canada contain iron oxide. It is listed as an inactive ingredient as it is not listed as an active ingredient by Health Canada.” – Dr. Rosen.

4. Avoid peak hours

The sun’s UV rays are strongest between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Try to minimize your outdoor time and UV exposure during these peak-sun hours. If you’re outside during those hours, don’t forget to layer your clothing, seek shade, wear sunglasses and a hat and use sunscreen. You can check the daily strength of UV rays, the UV Index, here.

“If you can, plan your day so your activities are early in the morning or later in the afternoon, to limit sun exposure during peak hours.” – Dr. Rosen.

5. Choose shade over sun

Seeking shade during peak-hours is another great defence against the sun’s harmful rays. Look for natural shade at the park under a tree or under an umbrella on a restaurant patio. UV rays can still reach you in the shade by reflecting off surfaces. Take full precautions and cover up with a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.

“I sometimes carry a sun umbrella. Carrying around my own personal shade can be very helpful.” – Dr. Rosen.

Sun care tips: Did you know?

  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Canada and is one of the most preventable cancers
  • Sunscreen starts working as soon as its applied
  • Dr. Rosen says, “There’s no such thing as a safe tan. Tanning is not a safe behavior. It’s great to go to the beach, but protect your skin when you are there.”
  • Teaching children about staying sun-safe can help them reduce their risk of sun damage and skin cancer throughout their lives. You can act as a role model for your children and grandchildren.
  • Sun exposure is a source of Vitamin D, but Dr. Rosen advises, “You don’t need to rely on the sun for your Vitamin D exposure. It’s much safer and more effective to take it as a supplement.”
  • UV rays are still present on cloudy days. The radiation can penetrate thin clouds.
  • Surfaces such as water, sand and snow can reflect the UV rays, adding to sun exposure
  • Adults needs about two to three tablespoons of sunscreen to cover their body, and an additional teaspoon to cover the face and neck
  • Apply sunscreen to often-forgotten areas like your neck, ears, nose, back of the arms and lips. For your lips, use a lip balm with SPF 30 or higher protection
  • Use sunscreen even if you have cosmetics products with built-in SPF, as they often don’t provide adequate protection, particularly against UVA radiation
  • Apply sunscreen before applying other products like bug spray, makeup or any other products
  • If your sunscreen is past the expiry date or has changed colour or smell, it’s best to throw it out
  • Avoid storing your sunscreen in a place that can reach high temperatures. This can make sunscreen less effective.

Staying sun-safe year round can make a huge difference for your health. Show us how you’re being sun-safe on social media and tag us @UHNfoundation

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