Sun Day, Fun Day! – Protecting Yourself from Excess Sun
There are few things more glorious than a sunny day in Vancouver. We Vancouverites spend a good 9 months of the year in less than tropical weather conditions, so we understand the desire to get out in the sun as much as humanly possible when the weather is nice.
Let’s be honest, Vancouverites can get a little pasty looking over the winter months and getting out in the sunshine is an opportunity to achieve a healthy glow. And that “just got back from Hawaii” look shows really well on Instagram! #nofilter!
There are, indeed, lots of positive effects to that ball of fire in the sky. For one, it’s warm! But it also synthesises vitamin D3 in the body, enhances our mood, and kills pathogens. So, yay for the sun!
“Leathery” Only Looks Good on Handbags
So, yes, while being out in the sun can be a healthy and uplifting experience, it’s also paramount that you take the necessary precautions and protect yourself from the dangers of too much exposure! Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV; UVA and UVB) rays. Overdoing your time in the sun can not only damage your skin but can also harm your eyes and the immune system and lead to heat-related problems.
Did you know?…
- About 95% of UV radiation reaching the earth’s surface is UVA, which contributes to pigment darkening, photoaging, and skin cancers.
- UV radiation is greatest during the hours of 10:00am to 4:00pm, near the equator, at high elevations, and during summer months. Snow, sand, or watercan reflect the UV rays and increase your UV exposure.
- Cloud cover slightly reduces the level of UV radiation and shade reduces it by up to 50%. UV radiation penetrates clear water to a depth of 1 m (3.3 ft).
- Certain genetic traits, including fair skin, freckles, blonde or red hair, and blue eyes, predispose individuals to sunburn and skin cancer.
Crispy, leathery, and wrinkled are not good adjectives to describe your complexion! So, to avoid looking like a lobster, and, more importantly, to avoid the health risks associated with the sun, we offer the following sun-safety tips!
Limit Your Time in the Sun
The most effective way you can avoid the dangers of sun exposure is to limit your time in the sun. Health Canada recommends keeping out of the sun and heat between 11am and 3pm. Check your local weather sources for the forecasted UV index.
When your shadow is shorter than you, the sun is very strong. Look for places with lots of shade, like a park with big trees, partial roofs, awnings, umbrellas, or gazebo tents. Always take an umbrella to the beach.
Sunscreen! Sunscreen! Sunscreen!
We can’t repeat this mantra enough. Your mother was right when she told you never to leave the house without sunscreen! However, it’s important to know which sunscreens are the best and how to use them properly. The following information from Health Canada is very useful:
- Choose a high SPF.Protect your health by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30. The sunscreen should also say “broad-spectrum” on the label, to screen out most of the UVA and UVB rays.
- Look for “water resistant” or “sport”.Look for claims on the label that the product stays on better in water or when sweating.
- Read application instructions.For best results, be sure to follow the instructions on the product label.
- Use lots of sunscreen.Use about 7 teaspoons to cover your entire body.Cover all exposed areas generously, including ears, nose, the tops of feet and backs of knees.
- Apply it early.Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before you go outside and reapply at least every 2 hours after that.
- Reapply often. Reapply sunscreen often to get the best possible protection especially if you are swimming or sweating heavily.
- Don’t get bugged!Sunscreen and insect repellents can be used safely together. Apply the sunscreen first, let it absorb, then apply the insect repellent. Never use a combination sunscreen/insect repellant product.
- Don’t forget your lips! Protect your lips from sun damage by using a lip balm or lipstick with an SPF.
- Sunscreens and babies.Do not put sunscreen on babies less than 6 months of age. Keep them out of the sun and heat as their skin and bodies are much more sensitive than an adult’s.
- Test for an allergic reaction. Before using any product on you or your child check for an allergic reaction, especially if you have sensitive skin. Apply it to a small patch of skin on the inner forearm for several days in a row. If the skin turns red or otherwise reacts, change products.
Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreen
Sunscreens work by absorbing or reflecting UV radiation and are classified as a chemical (or organic) sunscreen, or a physical (or inorganic) sunscreen. Broad-spectrum sunscreens are combinations that absorb both UVA and UVB rays.
Chemical sunscreens are compounds that absorb UV radiation and convert it to heat that is harmless to humans. Examples include octinoxate (most common protection against UVB), and oxybenzone (most common to protect against UVA).
Mineral sunscreens include compounds such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which reflect and scatter UV radiation providing broad spectrum protection. Modern micronized preparations (nanoparticles that appear clear on the skin in contrast to earlier paste-like preparations) absorb UV radiation.
While sunscreen does a good job at protecting humans, scientists have found that it’s detrimental to much of the ocean’s ecosystem–specifically coral reefs.Many sunscreens contain chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can be absorbed by corals. These types of chemicals wreak havoc on the reproduction and growth cycles of coral and lead to bleaching. Buying and using mineral-based sunscreens are safer for the environment, as are sunscreens that have ‘non-nano’ sized particles, as they can’t be ingested by corals.
Protect yourself, and the environment! Try thinksport Safe Sunscreen, a reef-friendly sunscreen with an SPF 50 available for both adults and children.
Sunglasses Aren’t Just for Looking Cool!
Wear sunglasses. If you choose them properly, sunglasses will protect your eyes against damage from UV radiation and visible light. The recommended sunglasses provide 100% protection against both UVA and UVB radiation. You can look like a rock star and protect your eyes at the same time!
It’s a Cover Up!
When you’re not frolicking in the water, it’s best to wear light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat made from breathable fabric. If you are at high risk of sunburn or have a history of skin cancer, wear lightweight sunproof clothing with high UPF >30.
Treating Your Sunburn
If you read these sun-safety tips a little too late and are looking like a lobster after a weekend in the sun, here are a few tips to help ease your discomfort:
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Cool down your skin by bathing in cool water or applying a cool compress to your sunburned areas.
- Apply calamine lotion, a moisturizing lotion containing aloe vera, or an after-sun cream.
- Relieve pain from your sunburn by taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Severe sunburn can cause severely reddened or inflamed skin, dehydration, disorientation, dizziness or fainting, nausea, chills, high fever and headache. It may require hospitalization for intravenous rehydration and pain relief. Children younger than 1 year require immediate medical attention for severe sunburn.
Monitor Your Skin
Check your skin every year for any changes. If you notice any changes, growths, or bleeding on your skin see your primary health care provider for referral to a dermatologist. Skin cancer is treatable when caught early.
Remember the 5 S’s of Sun Safety!
- Slip on clothing.
- Slop of broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen.
- Slap on a broad-brimmed hat.
- Slide on UV protective sunglasses.