Six ways to enjoy the sunshine safely this summer
As the summer sunshine arrives, so do the campaigns aimed at educating Canadians about the dangers of excessive sun exposure.
UV RAYS: The science behind sunburns
If they haven’t caught your attention, then it would surely be the news that melanoma (the deadliest of skin cancers whose main cause is overexposure to the sun) is one of the fastest rising of all cancers in Canada, according to a special report recently released by the Canadian Cancer Society, Statistics Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
That should be enough to get you slathering on the white stuff. But how do we ensure what we’re rubbing into our skin is safe as well as effective against the damaging Ultraviolet (UV) rays? Here are some tips on choosing and using sunscreen.
Understand the numbers: The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) refers to a sunscreen’s ability to block out the sun’s UVB rays. Don’t let the numbers confuse you. While SPF 15 blocks 93 per cent of UVB rays, SPF 30 provides not double, but only four per cent more protection.
The question whether higher SPF ratings were more misleading than effective led to changes last year by Health Canada to the sunscreen monograph, a series of recommendations for sunscreen labeling. In Canada sunscreen products can no longer list SPF ratings higher than 50+.
Read the labels: Maggie MacDonald, toxics program manager at the Canadian organization Environmental Defence, says consumers need to be wary of labels. “Research is coming out all the time on various chemicals. Ultimately we want to see some chemicals not used in products but in the meantime it’s up to consumers to take a close look at them before purchasing.”
PROTECT YOURSELF: Cases of skin cancer in Canada on the rise
She recommends avoiding chemicals such as oxybenzone, an endocrine disruptor that has shown to impact the hormonal system. Instead, look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are safe and create a physical barrier between your skin and UVA and UVB rays.
For more on what-to-avoid, check out Environmental Defence’s pocket guide with the top ten toxic ingredients found in every day skin-care products.
Beware of Vitamin A: Environmental Defence and the American non-profit health research organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) caution consumers about Vitamin A or retinol, a popular anti-aging agent found in some moisturizers and sunscreens. “It isn’t to say that Vitamin A is bad for you,” says MacDonald. “Eating Vitamin A is healthy but there is some evidence to suggest that putting it on skin before sun exposure can make it more sensitive to the sun and more easily damaged by the sun.”
Avoid Sprays: MacDonald says that even with products that have perfectly safe ingredients, “it’s wiser to use lotion than spray.” Spray-on sunscreens can pose a risk when inhaled and the sunblock coverage may not be as even.
Choose your block: Every year, EWG looks at sunscreen’s ingredients, checks for allergens and potentially dangerous chemicals, and rates its ability to protect skin from UV rays. Browse through this year’s guide for their list of the safest, most effective sunscreens on the market.
Reapply: Reapply and reapply. It is recommended that sunscreen be reapplied every two hours, or more often if you’re sweating or swimming. This video by Canadian Dermatology Association in honour of Sun Awareness Week sends home the message. If it’s a constant battle with the youngsters, EWG has some ideas on how to get them sunscreen-ed up.
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