I used to slather my kids in sunscreen before we went to the park, but I have to admit that I sometimes skipped putting it on myself just to save time and get us out the door. Not a smart thing to do for sure, but I thought that if I stayed mostly in the shade or wore a hat, I’d be okay. At the time I didn’t realize the danger I put myself in.
A 2014 article published in the Globe and Mail says that the incidences of skin cancer, or melanoma, are increasing more than nearly any other cancer, mostly due to lack of sun protection. New cases of malignant melanoma, or the type of skin cancer that spreads to other parts of the body, has increased significantly in the last 25 years – and so have the deaths from it.
So if we know the risks of not wearing sunscreen, why do we often skip putting it on or check the weather before we decide if we will or won’t? The answer points to the fact that since we live in Canada, we usually don’t give sunscreen a thought unless we know we’re going to be outside for any length of time on a sunny day.
I have to say that I’m not a fan of wearing commercial sunscreens, especially on my face. I don’t like the thick consistency, the smell, and the overall greasy feeling they leave on my skin. Strangely enough, I seem to not mind it as much when I’m vacationing in Hawaii! After I came to this realization, I decided to do some research and see if I could find a product that contained ingredients that didn’t have a strong smell and felt comfortable on my skin all day every day, plus protected my skin to the max.
But before I get to that, I thought I’d delve into why safeguarding your skin from the sun is so important, so here’s the deal in simplified form.
The Lowdown on Rays
The sun emits ultraviolet, or UV rays. Over the course of a lifetime, UV rays can cause the skin to show signs of aging, but also cause skin DNA damage which results in skin cancers. There are two different types of rays contained in ultraviolet rays – UVA, and UVB which is the type that gives us sunburns. It was once thought that UVB rays also caused skin cancers, but now we know that UVA rays are just as harmful as UVB. In fact, UVA rays may be even more dangerous because they penetrate deep into the skin, and not only cause it to wrinkle but are also responsible for more serious cases of skin cancers that develop deep beneath the skin’s layers and not just on the surface.
Unfortunately sunscreens were developed to protect only against UVB rays at first. It was thought that since UVBs caused the burning, they would also be responsible for cancerous growths. It’s now known that the intensity of UVB rays fluctuates with the seasons and time of day, but not so for UVA. UVA rays can penetrate through clouds and windows, delve deep into your skin, and bounce off reflective surfaces like water. They are also the same intensity all year round, no matter what season or daylight hour.
Studies conducted by Australian scientists showed that people who wore sunscreen every day were 50 percent less likely to develop skin cancers than those who didn’t. If you could reduce your chances of getting skin cancer by half just by applying sunscreen, wouldn’t you do it?
No sunscreen provides 100% protection
Choose a sunscreen that’s labeled “broad spectrum” for best protection against both UVA and UVB rays. When you’re choosing an SPF, a grade of 30 doesn’t mean that you’re getting twice the protection of a 15. SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%. Health Canada suggests using a minimum of SPF 30 and maximum of 50. There is a movement to ban products that contain anything higher than SPF 50 since they offer little extra sunburn protection and might give the consumer a false sense of security when out in the sun. If possible, choose a sunscreen that says it protects against both UVA and UVB rays on the label. It may be more expensive, but worth the extra money in the long run.
Mineral versus Chemical
There are a lot of options when it comes to shopping for a sunscreen that’s right for you. It basically comes down to personal choice and what what you will or will not tolerate on your skin. Mineral sunscreens are made from titanium dioxide or zinc oxide – actual minerals that come from the earth. They come in either cream or powdered form. The powdered form, which is what I personally prefer, can feel a bit heavy, but it has no smell and it’s definitely not greasy!
Chemical sunscreens are man-made combinations of various chemical ingredients formulated together. Chemical sunscreens work by sinking into your skin and absorbing the sun’s rays. The problem is, the more UVA and UVB rays they absorb, the less effective the sunscreens become, that’s why reapplying often is so important. Mineral sunscreens on the other hand, sit on top of your skin and block the sun’s rays, deflecting them from the skin’s surface before they can be absorbed.
Sunscreens are only part of an effective sun protection plan and shouldn’t be your only method of defence. It’s still recommended that you try to stay in a shaded area and wear a hat, too. If you are in the sun for a good part of the day, it’s a good idea to reapply your sunscreen (if you’re using chemical) every two hours. Less often for mineral unless it gets washed off. Some people use chemical and then apply a layer of mineral sunscreen and that’s okay, too!
Don’t forget the rest of your body
The rule of thumb is two to three tablespoons of sunscreen to cover an entire adult body (make sure you also apply to the backs of your hands and the tops of your ears) and a teaspoon full for the face. And don’t forget your lips! Many lip products on the market now contain an SPF of at least 30. Reapply often as lips are sensitive and lip balms and lipsticks come off while you’re eating and drinking. All sunscreens have an expiry date so make sure to check yours often. If it’s runny or smells off, throw it away.
It’s easy to get into the habit of applying sunscreen every day. Underneath your moisturizer or just on its own, knowing that you have a layer of protection from the sun’s harmful rays as you go about your day makes for one less thing to worry about. It’s also never too early to teach your kids about sun protection, too. With a lifetime of outdoor fun to look forward to, the sooner they learn to take care of their skin, the better.
What does skin cancer look like?
Melanoma takes many shapes and forms. Though it’s not always easy to tell if a mole or growth is cancerous or not, it does pay to see your doctor and have a suspicious mole looked at if you’ve noticed any changes or have any concerns. The important thing is to regularly give your skin a once over top to bottom and note any moles or lesions that have developed, changed in size or shape, or exhibit one of the following symptoms:
– A mole or sore that doesn’t heal within four weeks
– A mole or sore with irregular borders that itches, develops a scab or crust or bleeds off and on for more than four weeks
– An elevated growth that caves in at the centre and tends to bleed. This type also rapidly grows in size
– Areas where the skin suddenly develops a lesion that doesn’t heal within a month and you’re not sure how it developed