Perhaps this year more than ever, we are all looking forward to the warm summer sun and the outdoor sports and activities that it allows. But while the UV radiation from the sun provides us with many benefits, overexposure presents many risks. UV radiation reaches the earth from the sun in the form of UVB and UVA rays; UVB radiation plays a key role in skin cancer while UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply, are associated with skin wrinkling, leathering and sagging.
Did you know that you are at risk of UV damage even if you are sitting inside and enjoying the rays through a window? If daily sun protection has fallen off your enormous to-do list in recent months, it is time to re-prioritize it. Here’s how to care for your skin this summer:
1) Clothing is our first line of defence against the sun’s harmful UV rays and protects us by absorbing or blocking much of this radiation. The more skin you cover, the better.
2) Don’t forget a wide-brimmed (3-inch or greater) hat and a pair of UV blocking sunglasses.
3) Your next line of defence is sunscreen. Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin.
Here’s how it works: it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red. Using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer – usually for about five hours. Another way to look at it is in terms of percentages: SPF 15 filters out approximately 93% of all incoming UVB rays, SPF 30 keeps out 97% and SPF 50 keeps out 98%. The difference may seem negligible, but for light-sensitive individuals, or those with a history of skin cancer, those extra percentages make an important difference. Furthermore,higher SPF values offer some safety margin, since most people generally do not apply enough sunscreen.
Sunscreen Do’s & Don’ts
1. Do choose an SPF of no lower than 30 and no higher than 50, with at least three of the following active ingredients: salicylates, and/or cinnamates for UVB absorption; benzophenones (such as oxybenzone) for shorter-wavelength UVA protection; and avoben - zone, ecamsule (Mexoryl), titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide for the remaining UVA spectrum.
2. Do choose a water-resistant sunscreen that will stay put on hot days, while playing sports, or if you spend a lot of time outdoors. These sunscreens are also less likely to drip into your eyes when you sweat.
3. Do use enough. To get the full SPF of a sunscreen, you need to apply one ounce – about a shot glass full. Most people apply only one-half to one-quarter of that amount, which means the actual SPF they have on their body is lower than advertised. To allow ingredients to fully bind to the skin, apply 30 minutes before sun exposure.
4. Don’t forget to reapply. No sunscreen, regardless of strength, should be expected to stay effective longer than two hours without reapplication. It should also be reapplied
immediately after swimming, toweling off, or sweating during sports.
5. Don’t rely solely on a high SPF. Products with very high SPFs can create a false sense of security, prompting individuals to stay out in the sun longer and neglect other sun-protective behaviors, like seeking the shade and wearing sun-protective clothing. However, sun damage (for example, UVA damage, which not only accelerates skin aging, but also contributes to skin cancers) can take place without skin-reddening doses of UV radiation.
6. Do look for the new seal of recognition for proper UVA & UVB protection. Only a sunscreen with a UVA protection factor that is one third of the UVB protection factor can possess the new seal of recognition issued by Health Canada.
7. Do wear sunscreen daily, including cold or cloudy days: up to 40% of the sun’s UV radiation reaches the earth on a completely cloudy day.
8. Don’t expose children under the age of six months to either the sun or to sunscreen. Shade and protective clothing are the best ways to protect infants from the sun.
One of the top three issues treated on our virtual healthcare platform is dermatology.