Fun in the Sun
When it’s sunny and bright outside there’s nothing better than heading down to the beach or local swimming pool to enjoy the warm weather. However, too much time in the sun can lead to detrimental effects on your and your child’s health, even if the effects may not be immediately apparent.
It doesn’t take as long as you may think to get your daily intake of vitamin D from the sun. According to Dr. Julie Prendiville, a pediatric dermatologist at BC Children’s Hospital, when UV radiation levels are high, most people only need a few minutes in the sun for adequate vitamin D production.
What is ultraviolet radiation?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is an invisible energy that mainly comes from the sun. Though not dangerous in short exposures, UV rays are damaging to the DNA of our skin cells. Skin cancer can develop when this radiation tampers with the DNA of genes that control the growth cycle of skin cells.
Skin cancer is not the only danger of prolonged exposure to UV rays. Other effects include sunburn, premature aging of the skin, increased risk of cataracts and other eye problems, just to name a few.
Types of UV radiation
There are three types of UV radiation to which we are regularly exposed and that can cause damage.
UVA: UVA rays can damage DNA in skin cells and cause early aging. They are also believed to play a part in the development of some skin cancers.
UVB: UVB rays directly damage the DNA of skin cells and are believed to be the direct cause of most skin cancers.
UVC: UVC rays often do not pass through the Earth’s atmosphere so they are not believed to cause any skin cancers.
The amount of UV radiation you are exposed to depends on the length of exposure, the strength of the rays, and how you choose to protect yourself (with sunscreen, clothing etc.).
Sunscreen for the soul
There are many different kinds of sunscreen with varied levels of SPF, which can make it difficult for the average person to choose the best one. First, it’s important to know approximately how long you intend to stay in the sun. A sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 is recommended at all times. Most moisturizers and cosmetics offer this level of protection. If you plan on spending an extended amount of time in the sun, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 to 40 is recommended. If high-intensity sun exposure is your intention, a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 50 is recommended. This SPF manages to block about 98 per cent of damaging UVB rays and offers the highest level of protection.
Safety in the sun
There are many ways you can defend yourself against the sun’s harmful rays:
1. Slap on some sunscreen. The SPF rating is a measure of the fraction of sunburn-producing UV rays that reach the skin. For example, SPF 15 means that 1/15th of the burning radiation will reach the skin. A sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 can block 93 per cent of UV rays and prevent damaging sun burns. It’s important to remember that the SPF does not refer to UVA protection. Dr. Prendiville advises using a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB;
2. Put on a hat and cover up. The best kind of hat to wear is one with a wide brim that protects your ears, nose and forehead. You should also wear clothing that completely blocks out light, and apply sunscreen to any exposed areas;
3. Pop on your favourite shades. Sunglasses can usually block out 93 to 99 per cent of UV rays and effectively protect your eyes from the sun;
4. Limit sun time. The best way to protect yourself from the sun is to decrease the amount of time you spend at peak times of the day. The sun is strongest between 11 am and 4 pm.
Pay attention to the daily UV index in your area. Based on a scale of one to 10, UV index guidelines are universal across the globe and inform about the amount of sun protection individuals need on a specific day or time.
Did you know?
No matter what time of the year it is and whether it is sunny, cloudy, foggy or raining, there are always UV rays in our atmosphere. Wear sunscreen and protect yourself at all times!
Skin cancer is more prevalent than ever in Canada. Remember to stay safe while you have fun!
Test your sun safety knowledge
1. What is the most prevalent type of cancer in Canada?
a) Breast cancer
b) Lung cancer
c) Skin cancer
d) Colon cancer
2. What types of UV rays are thought to cause cancer?
a) UVA and UVC
c) UVA and UVB
d) UVB and UVC
3. A sunscreen with SPF 15 can:
a) Make you dance
b) Block 93 per cent of damaging UV rays
c) Interfere with vitamin D production
d) Affect your appetite
Answers: 1) d; 2) c; 3) b
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