By Lesley Young
Before we begin, let’s shed some light on one thing: spending time in the sunshine isn’t all bad – it encourages an active lifestyle and boosts vitamin D levels (a real concern for Canadians who weather long winters). You just have to avoid overexposure, which is when damage occurs. It’s easy if you follow these 12 tips, listed in order of importance.
1. Limit time in the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. (or whenever the UV Index is 3 or more) from April to September. This may not be possible all the time, but use it as a guideline for scheduling activities. When midday is unavoidable, try to adjust your location to a site with deep shade.
“One of the important ways Canadians can protect themselves is to plan activities outside of the peak hours of sun exposure,” says Gillian Bromfield, the director of cancer control policy at the Canadian Cancer Society’s national office. Check the sun’s UV Index at Environment Canada.
2. Create shade by using an umbrella, an awning, a gazebo, a pup tent or a canopy. Keep umbrellas handy in the trunk of your car or garden shed in summer months. In a pinch, seek out shady areas under trees (the denser the foliage, the better).
3. Cover up in loose-fitting tightly woven clothing. “Clothing is probably the best way to protect yourself when you’re in the sun,” explains Dr. Jason Rivers, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Fabrics that block out light when held up to a light bulb are the most protective.
4. Wear a hat with a three-inch brim. Baseball hats and visors don’t protect the neck, where the most common forms of skin cancer tend to appear.
5. Slip on UVA/UVB protective shades (kids, too!), not only to protect yourself from skin cancer around the eye, cataracts and other eye damage caused by the sun but also to prevent crow’s-feet. Sun zaps the elasticity from skin and squinting further exacerbates wrinkles, says Rivers. Look for durable kids’ sunglasses; choose wraparound styles for more coverage.
6. Use a 30 SPF (sun protection factor) broad-spectrum UVB and UVA sunscreen because both UVB and UVA rays cause sunburns, which contribute to skin aging and skin cancers, too. Currently, there are no regulations to test products’ protective claims for UVA in Canada. However, a 30 SPF – the minimum SPF recommended for everyone – will offer some degree of UVA protection, says Rivers. The Canadian Dermatology Association lists recommended sunscreens at dermatology.ca.
7. Use at least a shot glass worth (30 millilitres or two tablespoons) of sunscreen for adults. Many people put on a quarter or half the amount they should, which means they are only getting half the protection, says Rivers. Apply it 20 minutes before you go outside and reapply at least every two hours.
8. Use an oil-free spray sunscreen if you have oily acne-prone skin and on hairy areas, especially men’s chests, arms and legs. “I find spray sunscreens are more cosmetically acceptable to most because they’re less greasy,” says Dr. Lisa Kellett, a dermatologist at DLK on Avenue in Toronto. Apply them indoors and rub them well into the skin.
9. Put SPF 30 lip balm around the eye area, especially on kids. Kellett’s tip ensures an extra protection to compensate for that little space we often leave to prevent sunscreen from dripping into and stinging our eyes.
10. Don’t use sunscreen on children under six months of age; instead, keep them out of direct sun. Studies show that our bodies absorb the chemicals in sunscreen, and while there are no confirmed negative health effects for adults, says Kellett, the impact is not known for babies and, therefore, not recommended.
11. Avoid tanning beds (base tanning is a myth). Indoor tanning is probably more dangerous than the sun because, despite the marketing, tanning beds emit UVA and UVB rays, says Rivers.
12. Apply all of these sun-safe habits every day, even on cloudy days and in the winter. If you see any light outside, you’re seeing ultraviolet radiation, points out Kellett. “You are also exposed to its reflection off water and snow,” she adds.
Levels of skin damage
There is no direct correlation between sunburn location and skin cancer location. But there is between the incidence of severe blistering sunburns and increased risk of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
Plus, there is a clear link between locations of accumulative UV exposure and the most common skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma (head and neck regions) and squamous cell carcinoma (face and neck, backs of hands). Melanoma can occur anywhere but most often occurs on men’s and women’s faces, women’s lower legs and men’s trunks.