Top 10 sunscreen tips
Submitted by Dr. Alexandra Kuritzky, dermatologist, St. Paul's Hospital
After a snow and rain-drenched winter and spring, Vancouverites are finally relishing sunny, dry weather. That’s a welcome relief. But too much exposure to warm rays can put people at risk of skin cancer.
According to the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation, one in three cancers diagnosed worldwide is a skin cancer, with 80-90% caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Over 80,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in Canada each year and more than 5,000 of them are melanoma, the most deadly form.
These numbers highlight the need for sun protection, with clothing, shade and sunscreen. But many myths and misconceptions exist about sunscreens. St. Paul’s dermatologist Dr. Alexandra Kuritzky offers 10 facts about sunscreen and how you can best protect yourself and safely enjoy the sun.
1. Do I need to wear sunscreen daily, even in winter or if I work inside?
Yes! UVA passes through window glass and is more consistent throughout the day and throughout the year than UVB (which tans and burns you). UVA also contributes to wrinkles and other signs of aging, along with skin cancers. What’s more, even short exposures outside add up throughout the day, so daily sunscreen use is a good habit to develop.
2. What sunscreen should I buy?
Look for a product that states: SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum, UVA and UVB. SPF means sun protection factor and measures how long a sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays. Broad spectrum products protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Higher SPF provides better protection by blocking more UV rays.
3. What about Vitamin D- do I need to get it from the sun?
There are three sources of vitamin D: supplements, fortified foods, and the sun. Usual sunscreen use does not interfere with vitamin D production but rigorous use of sunscreen and clothing may. The best strategy is to protect yourself from the sun and to take a daily vitamin D supplement of 1000 IU, with food. That way you get the best of both worlds, safely.
4. Is there truth to claims that sunscreens can disrupt our hormones?
These concerns are based mainly on a 2001 study in which female rats were fed huge amounts of one of the ingredients in chemical sunscreens, and were shown to have an increase in the weight of their uterus. A 2011 study demonstrated that a human would have to use sunscreen in normal quantities daily for 277 years to reach these levels.
5. What is the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens?
Chemical sunscreens, which typically contain ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone absorb UV radiation, which is then released from the skin as heat. Physical sunscreens, which contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, both reflect UV radiation and absorb it.
6. Which is better - physical or chemical sunscreen?
For people with sensitive skin or a history of allergy to sunscreens, physical sunscreens may be better tolerated. For most, it is a matter of personal preference. Physical sunscreens may appear more white on the skin while chemical sunscreens are often more transparent. Some physical sunscreens are tinted to better match skin tone.
7. What approach to sunscreen is recommended for children?
All sunscreen ingredients available in Canada are approved for use in children six months of age and older. Sunscreen labeled as “Kids” or “Babies” do not have different sunscreen ingredients, but may have certain properties such as water resistance. Babies under 6 months of age should be kept out of direct sunlight.
8. Is any sunscreen truly waterproof?
Canadian labelling standards allow the terms Water Resistant 40 and 80, meaning that the product has been tested to retain its SPF after 40 or 80 minutes of water immersion. Sunscreens may not be labeled as waterproof and should be reapplied after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
9. How much sunscreen do I need to apply?
The teaspoon rule helps you apply enough sunscreen to match what is done in the lab when SPF is determined. Apply ½ to 1 teaspoon to the face, 1 tsp to each arm, 1 tsp to the chest, 1 tsp to the back, and 2 tsp to each leg. That’s almost 45 mL, or about a shot glass, of sunscreen per application! So it’s more than we think.
10. Apart from sunscreen, what else should I do to protect myself?
Wear a broad-brimmed hat and cover up with clothing wherever possible. Clothing labeled as UPF means UV Protection Factor, a similar concept to SPF, and is good for long sun exposure and beach wear. Protect your eyes with sunglasses or prescription glasses whenever you are outdoors. Plan activities early in the morning and later in the afternoon, avoiding mid-day sun.
Get out there and enjoy the sun safely- your skin and eyes will thank you for it.
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