If the past week showed us anything, it is that summer is here. There might still be a few cool days on the books but the return of sun and hot weather will come soon..  Let us take the time now to set ourselves up for a safe summer by reviewing some sunscreen facts.

Sunscreen is the most important tool in the prevention of skin cancer.  After a long winter, the warmth of the sun feels so good we want to spend as much time in it as possible.  Unfortunately, this exposes us to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation that increases the risk of skin cancer.  In the early months of summer, many of us forget to put it on, realize either we do not have any, or just do not bother to put it on. When our skin is exposed to the sun, we should wear sunscreen. Here are some tips to help stay safe in the sun this summer.

  • Use a sunscreen that is “broad spectrum”.  This means that it will protect you against both types of harmful rays: 1) Ultraviolet A (UVA), which is the most common and causes premature aging of the skin; and 2) Ultraviolet B (UVB), the most dangerous and causes sunburn.  Exposure to both types of rays can cause skin cancer.
  • Use a sunscreen that has a minimum 30 SPF. SPF refers to “sun protection factor” and indicates how much protection the product has.  Sunscreens with at least 30SPF block 97% of the sun’s rays.
  • No sunscreen is waterproof or sweat proof.  In the US, brands are no longer allowed to advertise their products as being water/sweat proof. Instead, they can be labeled “water resistant” (effective for up to 40 minutes in the water) or “very water resistant” (effective for up to 80 minutes in the water).   It is recommended to reapply sunscreen every two hours, immediately after being in the water or after sweating.
  • Avoid sunscreen for children under 6 months.  Infant skin is too sensitive to use sunscreen.  Instead, keep them in the shade, dress them in protective clothing (long sleeved shirts, pants and wide-brimmed hats) and make sure they are well hydrated.
  • Teaspoon and Shot Glass Rule: To ensure you are adequately covered, use a teaspoon of sunscreen to cover your face/neck and a shot glass to cover other exposed areas.
  • Sunscreen does expire. Sunscreen can maintain its protection effectiveness for at least three years.  Many sunscreens will have an expiration date.  If yours does not, watch for a change in colour or consistency of the product and if it changes toss it.
  • Beware of spray on sunscreens. Although they may be very convenient, spray on sunscreens may not be as effective and often they are not applied in an adequate amount.

Keep in mind that sunscreen is just a tool to help keep you sun safe this summer.  You can limit your exposure to UV radiation by wearing protective clothing, staying in the shade, and avoid being outside when the sun is most intense.