Protecting Your Family From Too Much Sun

Enjoy the sunny season with less worry
three children wearing sunglasses and lying in the grass on their bellies
© Can Stock Photo / konradbak

While the sun contains multiple benefits to human health, too much of the sun’s warm rays can also be harmful to our skin. Learn how to protect your family from sun overexposure while still enjoying its virtues.

Sunny days, sunny ways

Sunlight provides warmth and light that exposes us to mood boosting properties. It also contributes to our bone health – stimulating the production of vitamin D which is important in the development of our skeletal system, how our blood cells are formed and our immune systems. The World Health Organization (WHO) also states that sun exposure can treat several skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, jaundice and acne for certain individuals.

The down side of the sun's rays

In the past century, public health messages have focused on the hazards of too much sun. The sun gives off visible sunlight, which we can monitor against burning, but the invisible radiation from ultraviolet rays can be even more harmful.

  • Ultraviolet B (UVB) UVB has been a long-known contributor to the development of skin cancer, and it also plays a role in sunburns.
  • Ultraviolet A (UVA) UVA penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB, and causes the skin to age prematurely and have a “leathery” look.  Recent studies have shown that UVA may initiate and contribute to the development of skin cancers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) finds that exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation over long periods of time can also damage the eyes and have negative health effects on the immune system.

How can I avoid the harmful effects of the sun?

There are multiple things you can do to protect your skin from too much sun. Here are some things the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends before going outside:

  1. Cover up: Wear light colored shirts, hats, and pants to shield your skin.
  2. Plan around the sun: Avoid sun in the middle of the day, from about 10 am to 4 pm. When your shadow is shorter than you, the sun is very strong.
  3. Find shade: To reduce your risk of burns, bring an umbrella to the beach, picnic under a tree or go to a park where you can stay away from direct sunlight (ex: under a gazebo or trees).
  4. Don’t get burned: When your skin is red and sore, you’ve had too much sun.
  5. Wear sunglasses: Make sure to buy sunglasses that provide protection against UVA and UVB rays.
  6. Check the Ultraviolet (UV) Index: If your UV index is higher than 3, wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and apply sunscreen.
  7. Apply a safe and effective sunscreen.

How do I choose a safe and effective sunscreen for my family?

There are hundreds of different types of sunscreen and choosing the “right” sunscreen can be challenging. Here are three things to keep in mind when picking a sunscreen:

  1. Broad spectrum protection: As mentioned above, Ultraviolet wavelengths are classified as UVA and UVB. Since both UVA and UVB are harmful, you need a sunscreen that protects you from both kinds of rays. The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) seen on sunscreen bottles only measures the UVB rays. Therefore, make sure to choose a sunscreen that also has a “broad spectrum” label on the bottle.
  2. Choose sunscreen cream (not spray or powder): Spray and powder sunscreens are not recommended by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) as they present a risk of inadequate sun protection and inhalation of nanoparticles.
  3. Read your labels for dangerous ingredients:
  • Retinyl palminate (a form of vitamin A): The National Toxicology Program (NTP) suggests that retinyl palmitate may stimulate the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight.
  • Oxybenzone: EWG rates oxybenzone as an eight on their hazard scale. Oxybenzone is a synthetic estrogen that can disrupt the hormone system. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that it contaminates the bodies of nearly every American and has also been associated with endometriosis in women.
  • The Dirty Dozen: Be aware of these ingredients as some of these are known carcinogens and others are not regulated in Canada. Parfums (or fragrance), parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, and propylene glycol, are examples of ingredients that should be avoided in sunscreen.

Summer is an exciting time for all family members. Keep these things in mind when going outside and selecting a sunscreen -- and get outside to enjoy nature, worry-free!