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Child and parent playing in sun
Child and parent playing in sun

How to protect your skin this summer

Personal health · Jul 18, 2022

As we finally start to experience better weather, it's hard to resist staying outside for hours. But that also means we need to be sun savvy — especially when it comes to our kids.

Research shows that most of our lifetime sun exposure occurs during childhood1 and those who are sunburned early in life have a greater risk of developing skin cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Canadians.2 The most deadly type of skin cancer, melanoma, is on the rise, too.3

The importance of using sunscreen

Sunscreens use mineral and chemical blockers to prevent harmful UVA and UVB rays from penetrating the skin. 

Sunscreens provide numerous health benefits4 including: 

  • protecting from sunburn

  • helping to prevent skin cancer

  • protecting against premature aging 

There have been concerns about some of the ingredients found in common sunscreens. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) cites recent reports from the US Food and Drug Administration that determined that common chemical sunscreen ingredients such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and others are systemically absorbed into the body after a single application — and that traces of these chemicals can be detected in the skin and blood weeks after their use.5

To that end, the FDA has classified two chemical-based sunscreen ingredients — PABA and trolamine salicylate — as NOT generally safe and effective.5 On the other hand, mineral sunscreen ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are considered generally safe and effective.5 The latter ingredients do tend to have a bit of a chalky appearance after application.

Choosing the right sunscreen

Look for a mineral sunscreen containing titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, but check the SPF number. Many cosmetics and moisturizers include SPF factors of 15, which may be sufficient on a regular workday when you’re outside for a few minutes, but it’s not enough if you’re planning outdoor activities or a day at the beach.

Health Canada6 recommends choosing a sunscreen that is: 

  • A minimum of SPF 30

  • Water resistant 

  • Broad-spectrum (this means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays) 

  • Not past its expiration date 

If you’re planning to spend time outside, use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, but not more than 60. Sunscreens with an SPF higher than 60 may not provide any extra protection, but they can encourage people to stay outside longer, or reapply their sunscreen less, because they feel more protected. Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

Not sure which one to buy? The Canadian Dermatology Association has a list of recognized sunscreens7 that may be helpful. 

How to properly apply sunscreen

Sunscreen should be applied 15 to 30 minutes before heading outside and then reapplied every two hours, or immediately after swimming - even if it's waterproof. It’s also critical that you use enough. Insufficient amounts of sunscreen result in less SPF protection, and most people only use about 25% of the recommended amount.8 For the best protection for the average size person, you need to use about a quarter of a regular-sized bottle. This is equal to about a golf ball-sized amount or a shot glass full. So a regular-sized bottle should only last you four applications.

Other ways to protect your skin 

In addition to sunscreen, it’s important to adopt other sun-safe behaviours, such as wearing a wide-brimmed hat that’s at least 3 inches wide, as well as sun-protective clothing.

When it comes to clothing, the degree of protection depends on the weave and on the chemical additives in the fabric. Darker colours block more UV rays. For the best protection, the tag on the fabric should be listed with a UPF 50 rating.

And don't forget: you can even sunburn your eyes, so use a good pair of sunglasses. Babies should wear them too.

Another way to keep your skin safe is to be mindful of the time of day when you are in direct sunlight. The UV index is highest9 between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., so it may be best to spend time outdoors in places with ample shade. One way to get a sense of the strength of the sun at any particular time of day is to look at your shadow. When your shadow is shorter than you, it means the sun is very strong. 

With the right sun protection in place, you’ll be ready to get outside and safely enjoy this long-awaited Canadian summer with the ones you love.

Prevention is key

Using sunscreen and other methods of protecting your skin from the sun can be a key step in preventing sunburn and skin cancer. It’s one of many things you can do to practice preventive health care.

To get a deeper understanding of your current health overall, TELUS Health Care Centres can help. A Preventive Health Assessment provides a snapshot of your overall health, and is available at a clinic near you.


References 

1. Sun Safety for Children . HealthLink BC. (2021, July 1). Retrieved July 18, 2022, from https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/sun-safety-children

2. Government of Canada. 2018. “Sun safety and skin cancer.”

3. Joshua, AM. “Melanoma prevention: are we doing enough? A Canadian perspective.” Curr Oncol. 2012;19(6):e462-e467. doi:10.3747/co.19.1222

4, 6.  Gouvernement du Canada. (2017, November 7). Government of Canada. Canada.ca. Retrieved July 18, 2022, from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/sun-safety/sunscreens.html

5. Environmental Working Group. 2021. “The trouble with ingredients in sunscreens.”

7. Sunscreen. Canadian Dermatology Association. (2020, November 18). Retrieved July 18, 2022, from https://dermatology.ca/recognized-products/sunscreen/

8. AADA. 2021. “Sunscreen FAQs”

9. Gouvernement du Canada. (2022, January 26). Government of Canada. Canada.ca. Retrieved July 18, 2022, from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/sun-safety/sun-safety-basics.html

Authored by:
Dr. Rhonda Low
Family physician, TELUS Health Care Centres