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In Canada, sunlight is strong enough to cause skin cancer and premature aging of the skin. Sunscreen is a product that protects the skin from the damaging ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun. Sunscreen comes in many forms, such as lotion, cream, gel, spray or stick.

Sunscreen absorbs UV rays and prevents them from penetrating the skin. Make sure your sunscreen offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays (labelled “broad spectrum”). All sunscreens allow some UV rays to penetrate your skin, but broad-spectrum will give you the best protection.

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Sun protection factor (SPF)

Sunscreens are rated by the strength of their sun protection factor (SPF). The SPF number refers to the product’s ability to screen or block out the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Sunscreens are available with a SPF ranging from 2 to at least 100. Sunscreens with higher SPF ratings block slightly more UVB rays, but none offer 100% protection.

  • SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93% of UVB rays.
  • SPF 30 and higher sunscreen blocks 97% of UVB rays. They are not twice as effective as SPF 15.
  • Regardless of the SPF, the sunscreen’s effectiveness can be affected by how much you use, your skin type and the length of time and intensity of UVR you are exposed to.

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How to use sunscreen

Remember, no sunscreen can block all of the sun’s rays, so use sunscreen as a backup in your sun protection plan.

  • Use sunscreen along with shade, clothing and hats, not instead of them.
  • Remember that sunscreens are not meant to be used so that you can stay out in the sun longer. They are meant to increase your protection when you have to be outside.
  • Sunscreen should be used on any exposed skin not covered by clothing.
  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF 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. Don’t forget your ears, nose, neck, any bald spots, backs of hands and the tops of your feet.
  • The average adult needs about 2 or 3 tablespoons of sunscreen to cover their body and a teaspoon to cover their face and neck.
  • Put sunscreen on first, before any makeup or insect repellent.
  • If you’re going to be in the water, make sure your sunscreen is water-resistant.
  • Use a lip balm with SPF and reapply when needed. Your lips need protection too.
  • Apply sunscreen even on cloudy days because UV rays can still pass through thin or scattered layers of cloud.
  • Don’t forget to apply sunscreen during the winter months.
  • Some products combine sunscreen with make-up or moisturizer. Always check that the sunscreen is broad spectrum, and follow the directions for how much to apply and how often. If you’re not sure that the sunscreen protects you from both UVA and UVB rays or the packaging doesn’t include directions, you may want to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen along with your make-up or moisturizer.
  • Sunscreens have an expiry date that is usually visible on the container. Sunscreens contain chemicals and they should not be used after the expiry date because they may not work as well.
  • Sunscreens can be affected by extreme changes in temperature. If it has been frozen or overheated, throw it out. If the sunscreen has changed colour or smell, throw it out.

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Using sunscreen and insect repellent

People can use both sunscreen and insect repellent to protect their health.

Be sure to read and follow the instructions on both containers to make sure that each product is applied properly.

Health Canada recommends that if you apply both products, put the sunscreen on first, followed by the insect repellent.

Apply repellent sparingly on top of clothing or only on exposed skin.

Don’t spray aerosol or pump repellent products directly onto your face. Spray the product on your hands and then rub it carefully over the face, avoiding the eyes and mouth.

Always oversee the application of insect repellent on children. Try not to apply insect repellent to a child’s hands. This will help reduce the chance of them getting the repellent in their eyes and mouth.

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Choosing a sunscreen

Try different sunscreens until you find the one you like. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you need help choosing a sunscreen.

Health Canada regulates the safety and quality of sunscreens in Canada. Sunscreen products are classified as drugs and must meet Canadian requirements.

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A helping hand for families

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The Canadian Cancer Society helps with expenses for children in cancer treatment and their families.

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