To many people in our culture, tanned skin is a symbol of health. Ironically, however, there's nothing healthy about tanned skin. Repeated exposures to UV radiation destroy the skin's elastic fibre and lead to wrinkles, sagging skin, and injury to small blood vessels, ageing the skin prematurely. In addition, the sun can cause cancer of the skin.
There are no safe ways to tan. Gradual tanning offers some protection against sunburns, but it never protects against the cumulative and negative effects of the sun on your skin. Even those who tan easily should protect themselves from the sun's rays. The negative impact of tanning lasts much longer than the temporary pain associated with sunburns. Your skin has a memory: it never forgets the effect of the sun's rays (ultraviolet (UV) radiation).
Not all sunrays are equal
There are two types of sunrays that you need protection from: UVB and UVA.
The labels of UVB sunscreen products include a sun protection factor (SPF) number. The SPF is an indication of the relative amount of time during which you can remain in the sun with the sunscreen without getting a sunburn caused by UVB rays; the higher the factor the greater the protection.
UVA rays are not the principal cause of sunburns, but they do damage the elastic tissue of the skin while playing a role in skin cancer. There is no standard for defining protection against UVA rays, so look for products containing reflective products that act on all types of UV rays (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide) or substances that specifically absorb UVA rays:
- avobenzone (Parsol 1789™)
- terephtalylidene dicamphor sulfonic acid (Mexoryl SX™)
- drometrizole trisiloxane (Mexoryl XL™)
- Limit sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun's rays are at their peak.
- Limit sunning during the first few days in the tropics or in high altitudes.
- Protect your eyes in the sun since the sun can induce cataracts. Wear good-quality sunglasses with UV protection, particularly in situations where there are large reflective surfaces (e.g., ski slopes).
- Protect your skin in the sun with clothing: wear a hat, long sleeves, and long pants made of tightly woven fabric.
- Don't sleep in the sun to avoid a very painful awakening...
- Always wear sunscreen in the sun - and don't forget to cover bald spots!
- After sunning, apply a generous amount of hydrating cream all over your body.
- Always use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more.
- The best sunscreens also protect against UVA rays. To make sure of it, choose a sunscreen having the Canadian Dermatology Association logo or ingredients quoted previously.
- Use water-resistant formulas.
- Apply the sunscreen at least 30 minutes before your exposure to the sun to enable it to penetrate the skin and repeat application 20 minutes after the exposure to ensure maximum protection.
- Apply a generous amount of sunscreen; applying a thinner layer reduces the effectiveness of the product considerably. A 100 mL bottle, when used properly, will only cover your entire body 3 times.
- Repeat the application every 2 hours and after swimming. This is particularly important for children who spend long periods of time playing in the water.
- The effectiveness of sunscreens is affected by storage conditions: replenish your supply every year and don't leave the bottle of sunscreen in the sun.
- Sunscreens should not be used to increase the length of your exposure to the sun, but to protect the areas of your body that are not covered by clothing.
Avoid all sun exposure after getting sunburnt Protect the sunburned area with loose-fitting light clothing or with zinc oxide ointment. Apply cold compresses to the area. Take acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol™) or ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin™, Advil™) to relieve pain, as needed. Apply hydrating cream or lotion frequently and abundantly on your sunburn except where there are blisters. Consult a doctor if you experience nausea, vomiting, fever, shivering, or visual disturbances.
Did you know...
- Certain drugs and cosmetic products increase the risk of getting a sunburn. Ask your pharmacist whether you need special sun protection because of any medication (such as antibiotics, diuretics, drugs for diabetes or hormones) that you may be taking.
- Clouds, umbrellas, water, and some wet clothes do not stop UV radiation effectively.
- Reflective surfaces (snow, sand, water) increase the effects of sun exposure and can cause you to sunburn even when you are in the shade.
- Wind can contribute to the skin damage caused by the sun. Skiers, sailors, and boaters of all kinds should be especially careful.
- Skin type should not guide the type of sun protection used.
- Tanning sessions (with UVA radiation) do not offer protection against sunburns.
- Skin needs to be protected at any age, especially in people 50 years or older (aging skin is more susceptible to the negative effects of sun exposure). Even if you have already sustained injury to the skin, you should still protect it against further damage.
- The goal of sun protection is not only to prevent sunburn but also to prevent tanning!
For more information
Canadian Dermatology Association