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Sun and skin: Practical tips for a sunny summer

By Jean-Christian Gagnon, PSP Ottawa Health Promotion –

Baking yourself in the sun is the oft-used expression we hear that usually implies long periods in the sun to acquire a golden tan and get rid of the pale skin we have in the wintertime. So why shouldn’t we take full advantage of the sun this summer after putting up with the biting cold of the Ottawa winter and taking vitamin D capsules to compensate for the reduced hours of sunlight? It’s a reasonable question, but the fact remains that we have to be careful about the hazardous effects of prolonged exposure to the sun on our skin, our body’s biggest organ. Consider this short article as an invaluable checklist for all of your outdoor activities this summer!

Melanomas ranks eighth among the most common cancers in Canada, and are caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Fortunately, melanomas have one of the best cure rates, 90 percent, owing to their visibility on the surface of the skin and their early detection. But in keeping with the old saying—An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—the following are three common myths and three practical tips taken from the website of the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA) that will help you enjoy the summer, while being careful.


Myth 1: I have to maximize my time in the sun so that my body can produce an optimal amount of vitamin D.
According to a survey, 53% of Canadians believe that exposure to the sun without sun screen is necessary to obtain the recommended percentage daily value of vitamin D. Do not be fooled! Although it is true that the sun plays a key role in your body’s production of vitamin D, occasional exposure to the sun—even with sun screen applied—is sufficient to obtain the recommended percentage daily value of vitamin D. During the winter months, vitamin D supplements are strongly advised (1,000 units per day) because of the reduced number of hours of sunlight.

Myth 2: I don’t burn; I tan easily. So I don’t need sunscreen!
If you believe you are invulnerable to the sun’s rays because your skin is immune to sunburn, I have bad news for you. We are ALL at the mercy of this big ball of fire overlooking our planet. A simple change of colour means skin damage. Although they are more at risk, fair-haired people (red-heads and blonds) with pale skin are not the only ones affected.

Myth 3: If the weather is cooler or cloudy, there’s no danger.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, up to 80% of the sun’s UV radiation can penetrate through clouds. That is why many of us have gotten sun-burned after spending time outdoors without sunscreen on a cloudy day. You also need to be careful during the winter months because snow can reflect up to 80% of the UV radiation emitted by the sun. Remember that on your next family ski trip!


Practical Tip 1: Stay in the shade between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM.
From late spring until early fall, UV radiation is particularly damaging to the skin during this period. So it is important to be strategic when planning outdoor activities and to limit your exposure to the sun’s rays as much as possible when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. If you like hiking and/or training outdoors, think about doing these activities early in the day or in the evening.

Practical Tip 2: Wear clothing that covers the skin as much as possible, such as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection.
This article is not intended to persuade you not to wear your favourite swimsuit when you go to the beach. However, if you plan to stay at the beach all day, it would be wise to cover your skin with longer garments, especially when the UV radiation is most intense (between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM). Between your dips in the water and your brief periods of tanning (if you cannot give it up), protect your skin and your eyes as much as possible to limit damage from UV radiation. UV-protective clothing is also available on the market. For the best protection, look for items with the highest UPF (ultraviolet protection factor).

Practical Tip 3: Choose a good sunscreen.
It is difficult to choose from the wide selection of sunscreens available. But what constitutes a quality sunscreen? The CDA provides a list of products recommended by the CDA’s Expert Advisory Board that meet the following criteria: Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30, as well as broad-spectrum, non-irritating, hypoallergenic, scent- or near-scent-free, and non-comedogenic (i.e., won’t block pores). Look for the CDA logo on products to find out whether they meet these criteria. If you also have to contend with insects, apply your sunscreen first, then your insect repellent.

Lastly, be on the lookout for any change in your skin. As mentioned above, melanoma has a high cure rate when detected early. Keep this melanoma checklist on hand to help you detect the disease. Specifically, look for the following characteristics using the “ABCDEs”:

  • Asymmetry (the shape of a mole is different on one side);
  • Border (the borders of the mole are irregular, jagged and imprecise);
  • Colour (mole colour varies with brown, black, red, grey or white areas within the lesion);
  • Diameter (6 mm or more; growth is typical of melanoma); and
  • Evolution (change in colour, size or symptoms). Forewarned is forearmed!

In closing, we wish you a summer full of sun, but free of sunburn!


This post is also available in: Français (French)

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