Skin - Sun and tanning: warning!

Many studies have proven that exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, UVAs and UVBs, has disastrous consequences on our skin. While UVBs can cause skin cancer, UVAs damage deeper connective tissue and cause premature ageing of the skin.

Summer in Quebec is notoriously short, no wonder we want to enjoy it to the fullest or why do not hesitate to get on a plane and fly to sunnier and warmer destinations! Many studies have proven that exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, UVAs and UVBs, has disastrous consequences on our skin. While UVBs can cause skin cancer, UVAs damage deeper connective tissue and cause premature ageing of the skin.

We know that the risk of skin cancer increases with the number of sunburns we get, particularly those that occur during the childhood years. Diligently protecting our skin, and that of our loved ones, has become a priority! In spite of all the awareness campaigns on this subject, skin cancer cases are on the rise year after year. The culprits: thinning of the ozone layer, which allows more ultraviolet rays to penetrate into the atmosphere; and incorrect use of sunscreens.

Here are a few a few tips to help keep your skin beautiful, healthy and well protected against the harmful effects of the sun.

1) Apply sunscreen every time you go outside Whether the sky is moody grey or azure blue, protecting our skin from the sun is a step we simply cannot eschew. Even if you cannot see the sun or feel its heat on your skin, harmful rays are always present. But which product, among the dozens found on pharmacy shelves, should you choose? Consider the following elements:

· Solar protection factor (SPF) Although solar protection factor (SPF) determines the efficacy of a sunscreen in blocking UVBs, it does not take into account UVAs. The higher the SPF, the higher the quantity of UVBs blocked. Hence, an SPF15 blocks 93% of UVBs, an SPF30 blocks 97%, and an SPF60 blocks 98%. As you have probably noticed, there is not much of a difference between an SPF30 and an SPF60. The Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA) generally recommends we use an SPF30. However, people with skin that is highly sun-sensitive and those who take photosensitive medications must use a product with a higher SPF. Photosensitive medications typically have a warning label on their containers, but it is recommended you speak with your pharmacist to see if the medications you are currently taking fall into that category. Also, people who use anti-wrinkle skin products containing alpha and beta hydroxy acids must be careful as they make skin much more vulnerable to the sun.

· Broad-spectrum protection Ideally, the sunscreen we choose should protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Because SPF only indicates protection against UVBs, how can we determine if a product also protects against UVAs? Look for the caption “broad-spectrum” or “anti-UVA” on the label. As only broad-spectrum sunscreen can offer protection against both UVBs and UVAs, it is a good choice for the entire family.

· Types of protection Sunscreens do not always have the same method of action. While some form a physical protection barrier on the skin, others provide a chemical protection barrier. In the case of a physical filter, the product blocks the entire spectrum of sun rays and prevents them from penetrating the skin. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are examples of components that offer physical protection. These products usually have thicker consistencies, and are more difficult to apply. Although very effective, these sunscreens leave a white residue on the skin, and because they block skin pores, they tend to exacerbate acne problems.

Sunscreens with a chemical filter base act by absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet rays. There are many effective chemical components, including Parsol 1789 (avobenzone) and Mexoryl SX. The consistency of these products is generally more fluid, which makes them easy to apply. However, these sunscreens are most often associated with undesirable reactions reported by people with sensitive skin.

Some products actually combine chemical and physical filters. They are an excellent choice because they offer a more complete protection. Sunscreens called “extreme” and “for kids” often offer this double protection.

· Waterproof and water-repellent products The terms “waterproof” and “water-repellent” are used to indicate how much time a sunscreen will remain effective on the skin after being immersed in water. While water-repellent filters keep their properties up to 40 minutes after being immersed in water, waterproof products are effective for up to 80 minutes. Therefore, because they are more tenacious, waterproof products are a great choice for people who play sports (they tend to sweat a lot) and for swimmers. We often recognise them from the caption “sport” usually mentioned on their labels.

Even if a product is waterproof or water-repellent, it does not mean you apply it once and are protected for the entire day. For maximum protection, these products, like any other sunscreen, must be reapplied regularly, every two or three hours.

· The Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA) logo When the CDA logo appears on a bottle of sunscreen, it guarantees an SPF15 or more, offers broad-spectrum protection (adequately protecting against UVAs and UVBs), does not irritate the skin, is hypoallergenic and contains little or no perfume.

2) Reapply sunscreen many times throughout the day Did you know that you need approximately 30 mL of lotion to properly cover the body of an adult, and that you should reapply the lotion every two to three hours regardless of the type of sunscreen? With this in mind, you can understand that a 120 mL bottle will not last the entire summer. Using sunscreen correctly usually translates into purchasing a few bottles over the summer.

It is important you also know that the price of a product does not necessarily reflect its quality and efficiency. Less expensive products offered in pharmacies and in department stores are just as efficient as the more expensive ones sold at cosmetics counters. In fact, you should be careful because some “upscale” products do not protect against UVAs, so read the labels!

3) Wear appropriate clothing How can we lower the quantity of lotion needed to protect our skin? Simply by wearing clothes!

You should know however that a white t-shirt made of 100% cotton only offers protection equivalent to an SPF5. The colour, fabric, type of fibre, the weaving and whether or not it has been treated with an anti-UV treatment determines how efficient a garment is in protecting against the sun’s harmful effects.

But thankfully, an increasing number of companies are offering garments that have been pre-treated to increase their capacity to block UV rays. Depending on the products, they typically offer UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) protection that varies between 15 and 50. You can find these garments in stores that sell sporting goods and outdoor gear.

A company called Rit has developed “Sun Guard”. This product can be used to increase the low UPF of regular clothes, to one of around 30. Simply add Sun Guard to the laundry water! The product actually coats the fibres with an invisible barrier that blocks around 96% of the sun’s rays, and usually lasts for up to 20 washes. Although Sun Guard is difficult to find in Canada, you should not have any problems ordering it on the Internet.

In conclusion, it is important to reiterate that protecting our skin properly has become a necessity. When you are planning outdoor activities, make sure every member of the family, from the youngest to the oldest, always wear sunscreen regardless of weather predictions. Apply it at least 30 minutes before going out and reapply it many times throughout the day. Also, you can protect as much of your skin as possible by wearing appropriate clothing. To make it easier, you can purchase garments that have been specially treated to block UV rays more efficiently than regular clothes. And do not forget your eyes! Always wear a hat and sunglasses when you spend time outdoors.

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