Protecting Yourself and Your Family From the Sun

Enjoy travelling season, worry-free!

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and we begin to slowly come out of our hibernation modes to play, clean, exercise, and relax in the sun. This 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.

While the sun contains multiple benefits to human health, too much of the sun’s warm rays can also be harmful to our skin. In the past century, Public Health messages have focused on the hazards of too much sun.  The sun gives off many different types of radiation such as visible light or sunlight. However, there is also such a thing as invisible radiation.

  • Ultraviolet A (UVA) is a type of invisible radiation. You cannot feel it or see it. UVA penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB, and causes the skin to age prematurely and have a “leathery” look.  Recent studies have also shown that UVA may even initiate and contribute to the development of skin cancers.
  • Ultraviolet B (UVB) is another type of invisible radiation. UVB has been a long known contributor to the development of skin cancer, and it also plays a role in sunburns.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also mentions 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 11 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. You need sunglasses: Make sure to buy sunglasses that provide protection against UVA and UVB rays.
  6. Check your local Ultraviolet (UV) Index: Check your UV Index before heading out. If your UV index is higher than a three - 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 sunscreens. Some companies list different ingredients than others, some state they are waterproof, some claim to be “kid safe”, and others can be sprayed on instead of rubbing a cream on our skin. 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 ingredients: 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!