Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Canada, with melanoma skin cancer being the deadliest form of it.
Fortunately, skin cancer is also partially preventable by reducing your exposure to UV rays.
There is strong evidence that, when applied correctly, sunscreen can prevent the formation of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
Before we get into talking about sunscreen, here are some things to consider when deciding the best and most comfortable way to protect yourself from UV rays:
Although UV protective clothing is shown to provide additional benefits against the sun’s harmful rays, you may also choose regular clothing that has tighter weaves, darker colors, a lycra/polyester-based material, or a higher degree of body coverage to increase protection against the sun.
Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30 will provide the best protection.
What SPF should you use? SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The SPF number tells you how long the sun’s UV radiation would take to redden your skin when using the product exactly as directed versus the amount of time without any sunscreen.
You might think that the higher the SPF number, the more protection you get; however if you’re not applying your sunscreen appropriately (ie. putting it on thick enough) this might not be the case.
Applying an SPF30 sunscreen generously will give you more protection than applying a thin layer of SPF50. Make sure you are following the directions on the bottle when it comes to sunscreen application to ensure full protection; including reapplication! What to consider when buying sunscreen If you’re a habitual under-applicator (you apply sunscreen at the start of your outing and forget to continue reapplying consistently) you may want to consider a higher SPF rating to increase the amount of time before skin damage occurs
I know you found that leftover bottle of sunscreen from three years ago because it came in a pack of 7 at Costco! So, should you use it? Always check the expiration date! Contents are not guaranteed to provide protection past the expiration date, and they may have degraded. If you have too many bottles of sunscreen that are just a tad past their prime, it might be OK to use them this season if you apply them much more frequently and ensure they are applied as thick as possible. I always recommend using sunscreen that has ample time left before it degrades.
If you’re going to be at the beach, in the water, or if the kids are playing in the sand, you’re going to want a water-resistant sunscreen to ensure it stays applied to the skin. Even with this added protection, reapply as the label recommends to ensure protection. Don’t forget the lips! Using a ChapStick that has an SPF of at least 30 will prevent lips from sun damage.
Why should I use sunscreen, I heard they are toxic!
Although there is no hard data that proves most sunscreen components are harmful, there is some data that occurred in Petri dishes that raises concerns. This doesn’t mean it is definitely harmful to humans, but it does mean we should use caution.
You will see a lot of labels this year that state their sunscreen is ‘oxybenzone free’. Oxybenzone does have data that demonstrate reproductive toxicity in animals and humans, as well as potential harm to coral reefs. Although the quality of this evidence is low, it’s best to avoid its use and choose a sunscreen that uses other ingredients. There are many other possible ingredients in sunscreen, and to be brutally honest; we don’t have data that says this stuff is safe when we use it repeatedly. However, there also isn’t any evidence that it’s dangerous. I’m happy to inform you that both titanium oxide and zinc oxide are considered safe and effective!
Zinc oxide is a very common ingredient in sunscreens; especially ones that market themselves as ‘natural’. Some brands that use mainly zinc oxide include All Good, Green Beaver, and Badger. These sunscreens are effective, have better safety data compared to other ingredients, and come in all forms of sunscreen (sprays, sticks, lotions, ChapStick). Fun fact: There is strong evidence in the literature that sunscreen prevents skin aging & wrinkles! Baby Reminder! Health Canada recommends sunscreens for children 6 months and up. If your child is less than 6 months, keep the baby in the shade with protective clothing as much as possible. There is no safety data for the use of sunscreens in children under 6 months, and with their skin being able to absorb more, it may be a potential risk factor. If you’re worried about the sun and your baby, it would be appropriate to apply a small amount of sunscreen, preferably SPF 15, to spots that cannot be covered up (ex; face, back of the hands) and wash it off when the baby has returned indoors.
Adrienne DeLuca, BHK