Sun safety: myth versus fact

29 May 2013

In Canada, sunlight is strong enough to cause skin cancer and premature aging of the skin, but nobody wants to stay inside when the sun is shining. With so much misinformation about what is considered safe versus not, the best way to protect you is to get the facts straight about sun safety.

We’re separating myths from facts so that you can make an informed decision on how to reduce your risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

1. UV rays are consistently strong all day

That’s a myth.
UV rays are strongest between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. so protective clothing is recommended to guard the skin during this time. Try and plan your outdoor activities before or after this time period in order to minimize your risk of burning. Remember, you can always bring an umbrella along- that way you can make your own shade wherever you need it.

2. UV rays are not harmful to me when it’s cloudy out

That’s a myth.
You need sunscreen regardless if it’s sunny or cloudy. Today, the risk of skin cancer is greater than it was 20 years ago and it only continues to increase. We are constantly exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays which penetrate through clouds, fog, and haze. Water, sand, concrete, and snow can even increase the sun’s rays through reflection, causing greater harm than just the direct sun.

. I’m at higher risk of developing skin cancer because I had several blistering sunburns as a child

That’s a fact. You are also at greater risk of developing skin cancer if you:

  • have light-coloured skin, eyes and hair
  • work, play or exercise in the sun for long periods of time
  • take drugs that make you more sensitive to UV light

4. Getting a “base tan” protects me from burning under the sun

That’s a myth.
A tan offers almost no protection from sunlight or burning. Whether you get a tan from the sun or tanning beds, you are never protected from getting a burn. Getting a tan from a tanning bed doesn’t protect you from the sun – tanning beds can expose you to 5 times more radiation than the sun. Always use sunscreen to protect yourself.

5. Broad-spectrum sunscreen offers the best protection against the sun’s rays

That’s a fact.
Broad-spectrum sunscreen offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays. The sun protection factor (known as SPF) tells you the product’s ability to screen or block out the sun’s UVB rays only. SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93% of UVB rays whereas sunscreen with SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays. Make sure you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15, and if you plan to be outside most of the day, use an SPF 30.