Love The Sun, Love Your Skin

Dec 12, 2011 | Blog

Spring & Summer rules for sensible tanning

It really has been a long, cold, lonely winter, but finally the warmth of the spring sun has arrived (with apologies to the East Coast, which may still have a few more Nor’easters before July). As we head outdoors to tend our neglected gardens and breathe fresh springtime air (check the pollution and pollen count before trying this at home) the sun is waiting.

Sunshine can lead to a kaleidoscope of colour changes in living things — notice the green of grass, the yellow of daisies and the red of unprotected human skin. While outdoor barbecuing is a joyfully anticipated aspect of sunny warm weather, the cooking of human skin is somewhat less pleasant.

Ultraviolet rays from the sun can cause sunburn, sun damage and skin cancer. Skin cancers are the most common of all cancers and the sun is its most common cause. Although there are three forms of ultraviolet rays (UV) with different wavelengths, only UVB and UVA reach the surface of the earth. UVB causes delayed tanning, burning and premature aging while UVA can lead to deeper changes in the skin, including altered pigmentation, thinning and wrinkling. Both forms contribute to an increased risk of skin cancers. Many tanning salons use UVA-predominant lights.

So what can you do to protect your skin against looking like a swollen tomato this season and like a desiccated leathery prune in the future? Here are some basic skin care sun protection tips from the Canadian Dermatology Association, Health Canada and my practice. Sun protection means being sunsmart for you and your family. Your skin cannot run and hide from the sun….

Rule 1: Protect Avoid outdoor activities during sun intense times of the day — usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. or when your shadow is shorter than your actual height. Use high grade sun blocks containing UVA and UVB protection and SPF with a minimum of 30. The SPF (sun protection factor) number in sun blocks refers to UVB protection — there is no standard for indicating protection levels from UVA.

Rule 2: Use sun blocks and the two finger test Studies show that most people apply only half as much sun block as they need to achieve the SPF rating. How much is enough? Here’s a simple rule; if you squeeze out enough sun block to cover your index finger and your middle finger, you’ll have enough to cover your face, neck, and scalp. You’ll need this much for each arm and twice as much for your entire torso and each leg. Reapply often, especially after swim- ming or exercise.

Rule 3: Seek shade or wear it. Seek shade if you can — if you can’t, make shade with broad-brimmed hats, kerchiefs, and clothing. Light loose long pants, long sleeved shirts and broad-brimmed hats provide excellent sun protection. Look at the fabric; if the weave is loose and the fabric sheer enough that can you see through, UV rays will be able to penetrate and cause skin damage.

Rule 4: Protect your eyes and wear only sunglasses that block UV rays and are CSA approved.

The World Health Organization has developed a simple program for sun protection based on the UV index. This index is computed using forecast ozone levels, the amount of incoming UV, forecast cloud amounts and the elevations of specific cities. This index is included in the local weather report whenever it is forecast to reach 3 (moderate) or more that day.

Special groups:

  • Babies and toddlers are especially vulnerable because their outermost layer of skin is thinner and their pigment system less mature. They can’t tell you that they are uncomfortable (until it’s too late) and are not capable of moving themselves into shade. Infants less than one year of age should be kept out of direct sunlight and protected under shade — a tree, umbrella or stroller canopy.
  • Children are at increased risk as they spend more time playing outdoors in the spring and summer. Most children receive the majority of their sun damage in childhood and teen years. A major risk factor for future skin cancer is two or more blistering sunburns as a child or adolescent.
  • Beach-goers and boaters sustain both direct and indirect sunexposure due to reflection and glare off sand and water. These activities should be accompanied by an even greater level of attention to sun protection.

These simple tips should keep you and your family active and enjoying outdoor activities. Here comes the sun, it’s all right…when you’re sun-protected.