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Sun protection

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Canada. Many skin cancers can be prevented. The single most effective way to lower the risk of developing skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR).

You can enjoy healthy outdoor activities as long as you protect yourself from the sun. Take steps to protect yourself from the sun’s rays before going outside. It is also important to protect against UV rays all year round, not just in the summer.

Check the UV Index

Check the UV Index before going outside. When the UV Index reaches 3 or more (moderate), you need to be extra careful to protect your skin. Try to reduce your time in the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. – when the sun’s rays are at their strongest – or any time of the day when the UV Index is 3 or more. In Canada the UV Index can be 3 or more from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. between April and September, even when it’s cloudy.

Be especially careful on holidays. Tropical destinations such as Mexico, Hawaii and the Caribbean are closer to the equator where UVR is stronger.

The sun’s rays are also stronger at high altitudes.

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Seek shade or create your own shade

Seek shade or create your own shade when outside, especially between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

  • Be prepared to make your own shade by taking along an umbrella.
  • Trees and hedges can provide excellent shade. How much shade will depend on the density and the type of plant.
  • Stand-alone structures, like a garden tent or a gazebo, are an easy and effective way to add shade to a garden area. Adding a retractable awning to a home or installing a porch roof are other ways to add shade. They can offer more permanent sun protection.
  • Be aware that sunlight bouncing off reflective surfaces, such as snow, pavement or water, can reach beneath an umbrella or a tree.
  • UV rays can pass through scattered and light cloud cover, fog, haze and smog.
  • If you can see the sky from your shady spot, you still need to cover up with clothing, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. UV rays can reach you in the shade by reflecting off surrounding surfaces.

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Wear clothing to cover your arms and legs

Cover up as much of your skin as you can with tightly woven or UV-protective labelled clothing. Clothes provide better protection than sunscreen.

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Wear a wide-brimmed hat

Most skin cancers occur on the face and neck. These areas need extra protection.

  • Wear a hat with a wide brim that covers your head, face, ears and neck.
  • Hats without a wide brim, like baseball caps, do not provide enough protection.
  • Put sunscreen on your ears, chin and neck even when wearing a hat.

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Wear sunglasses

Sunglasses can help prevent damage to your eyes by blocking a large percentage of UV rays. Keep your shades on and make sure your children wear them too. Sunglasses don’t have to be expensive to be effective, but make sure you choose close-fitting ones with UVA and UVB protection in a wraparound style. The label might have UV 400 or 100% UV protection on it.

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Use sunscreen

Sunscreen protects you from the sun by absorbing or blocking UV rays. It should be used along with shade, clothing and hats, not instead of them. Use sunscreen as a backup in your sun protection plan. Sunscreen should be used on any exposed skin not covered by clothing.

  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
  • Follow the directions on the bottle to apply. If you forget to put it on before going outside, it’s not too late! Put it on as soon as you can and reapply according to the directions, especially after swimming or sweating.
  • The average adult needs about 2 or 3 tablespoons of sunscreen to cover their body and a teaspoon to cover their face and neck.
  • Use a lip balm with SPF and reapply when needed. Your lips need protection too.

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Don’t use indoor tanning equipment

There is no safe way to get a tan. Do not use indoor tanning equipment. Just like the sun, tanning beds and sun lamps release UV rays that cause sunburn, damage skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. Their strength may be up to 5 times stronger than the midday sun on a summer day.

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