After a long, cold winter, many Canadians have the urge to get out and soak up as much sun as they can all summer long.
But an oncologist at William Osler Health Centre wants to make sure you’re being smart about it.
Dr. Marco Iafolla, site lead for Brampton Civic Hospital skin and genitourinary cancers, said choosing the right SPF and learning to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays is key to having a healthy summer.
What is SPF?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It represents how fast you’re likely to burn under the sun when applied as opposed to having no coverage over your skin and getting full sun exposure.
“For example, when we say SPF 50, it means it would take 50 times longer to burn when exposed to the sun relative to not wearing any sunblock,” said Iafolla.
How do I choose the best and most effective sunscreen?
- When choosing a sunscreen, look for the term “broad spectrum” on the package. This will protect you from both types of the sun’s ultraviolet rays that can have harmful effects on our bodies: UVA and UVB.
- When it comes to quality, you often get what you pay for. Avoid sunscreen with ingredients such as ensulizole, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene, octinoxate, oxybenzone, and avobenzone, if possible. These ingredients may not be generally recognized as safe and effective.
- Do some research before buying and make sure to always check the expiry date.
What are UVA and UVB rays?
UVA and UVB rays both play a role in skin damage. For UVA, think A is for aging, as in the damage from sun exposure can cause wrinkles and age spots on the skin. When it comes to UVB, think B as in burn, as these rays play the largest role in the development of skin cancer. Make sure the sunscreen you use provides good coverage of both.
The sun and UV rays are generally strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so be sure to check the predicted UV index wherever you get your weather report before spending a day out in the sun.
How often do I need to apply sunscreen?
There is often a false sense of security that comes with wearing a high SPF sunscreen. You are still at risk of burning whether you are wearing 60, 80 or even 100 SPF.
If you have been sweating, swimming or towelling off, make sure you reapply immediately. No matter what SPF you are wearing, it is recommended to apply once for every two hours spent in the sun to ensure you are protected.
Skin cancer – who is at a high risk?
- Those with prior history of skin cancer
- Those with moles on their skin — if you have more than 15 moles on your body, you should get checked by a dermatologist on a yearly basis to monitor for abnormalities like atypical moles or concerning skin legions.
- Those with skin cancer in their immediate family
- Those who had extensive sun exposure as children — Individuals who experienced high UVA and UVB sun exposure as children and teenagers (up to about 15 years old) have an increased risk of developing skin cancer later in life.
- Those with specific features, including: very fair skin, light eyes, freckles and those with red hair. These individuals don’t have the melanin in their skin needed to defend against the sun’s UV exposure.
- Those on immunosuppressive medications or other medications that diminish the body’s immune response
- Those who use indoor tanning beds
If you fall into any of these categories, it is incredibly important to cover up, avoid sun exposure when possible and check in with your doctor regularly if there are concerns and as needed.
Don’t forget, early detection is key. Like many cancer types, treating earlier stage skin cancers can have a positive success rate. So, make sure you are taking the necessary precautions when it comes to sun exposure, especially if you are of high risk.