The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure certainly applies to caring for our skin, and protecting it from excessive ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Skin cancer is by far the most common form of cancer diagnosed in Canada and the rates, especially for malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, continue to climb annually.
Skin cancer is also one of the most preventable cancers, but for a variety of reasons, public health prevention strategies have only had mild success. Many people continue to soak up the sun’s rays, and others continue to use UVR-emitting tanning beds, despite their use being classified as “carcinogenic to humans” since 2009.
To prevent the premature aging of the skin, damage to our eyes and to decrease the number of people experiencing skin cancer, we need to take skin protection seriously throughout our lives. The following messages are the result of a national consensus process. They were published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health in 2016.
- Check the UV Index daily. If the index is 3 or higher, protect your skin. In Canada, this is necessary mostly from April to September from 11 AM until 3 PM, even when it is cloudy.
- The UVR that is harmful to our eyes is in the sun’s rays throughout the year. Wear sunglasses with UV-protective lenses especially when you are around snow, sand or water. Try to get glasses that are tight-fitting and are labelled “UV400” or “100% UV protection”.
- Seek shade when possible (or carry your own).
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Be especially conscious of the tops of your shoulders and the tops of your feet as these areas are often highly exposed to the sun. Clothing generally provides better protection from the sun than sunscreen, especially if the fabric is tightly woven or is UV-protective.
- Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and has a label that says both “broad spectrum” and “water-resistant”. Apply it generously to areas that are not covered by your clothing and re-apply it periodically. It is estimated that the average adult should need about 2-3 tablespoons to cover their bodies, and about 2-3 teaspoons, just on the face and neck. Lip balm with sunscreen is also recommended.
- Never use UV tanning equipment or deliberately try to get a tan. Always avoid getting a sun burn.
Some people are concerned about getting enough vitamin D if they minimize exposure to the sun. It is safer to get the needed vitamin D from dietary sources, including fortified foods, and Vitamin D supplements (Canadian Journal of Public Health, 2016).
Tanned skin is actually damaged skin, and as millions of Canadians can attest, the skin does not forget, and over time, will not be able to repair itself.
For more information, visit Grey Bruce Health Unit or check out the Sun Safety section under the PLAY Resources Summer Camp tab.
Karen Kerker, Public Health Nurse