Avoiding skin damage from UV rays is the most important thing we can do.
The damage that leads to adult skin cancers starts in childhood and teenage years, as people are likely to receive about 80% of their lifetime sun exposure during the first 18 years of life.
No tan is a safe tan.
- Always have sunscreen with you so you can apply it whenever an unplanned outdoor activity arises
- Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 whenever you are outdoors (even on grayer days)
- Wear protective clothing with long sleeves, hats, and sunglasses
- Check for changes in moles, new moles and see your doctor immediately if anything is suspicious
- Limit sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm
- Do not use tanning beds
Winter and Spring: protect yourself on the slopes.
The sun’s reflection off of snow can increase the amount of UV radiation you receive by up to 85%. Sunscreen on your face and sunglasses for your eyes will help protect those exposed areas. In the summer, protect yourself on the water by wearing broad spectrum sunscreen, which contains both UVA and UVB protection.
An SPF30 is the minimum protection recommended and the sunscreen should be applied twenty minutes before heading outdoors to give time for the sunscreen to activate. Remember to reapply every two hours, or after swimming or perspiring.
Environment Canada acknowledges that “we now know that it takes very little time for the UV rays to damage your DNA, increase your risk to skin cancers, weaken your immune system and damage your eyes” (“The UV Index”).
During water or snow exposure, it is important to block out blue light. Medium to dark lenses with a grey, green, or brown tint will block out most blue light. Intensive daily exposure, such as outdoor work, requires a higher level of protection from sunglasses.
Daytime driving: general purpose sunglasses are considered sufficient protection during daylight driving. The industry is self-regulated and has three categories of sunglasses:
- cosmetic sunglasses with lightly tinted lenses
- general purpose sunglasses with higher protection levels of all light
- special purpose sunglasses provide the highest protection, but are too dark for driving
We strongly recommend that you read the labels on various sunglasses and seek the advice of an expert.
- Wear a visor or broad-rimmed hat when in direct sunlight
- Seek shade during peak sun hours from 11 am to 4 pm
- Wear brown, green or gray sunglasses, not so dark as to reduce vision
Ultraviolet light: this is the invisible light emitted by UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays extend to, and are absorbed through, the outer surfaces of the eyeball. UVA rays are longer and they extend into the eye’s lens.
Because UV rays carry more energy and are invisible, the eye is at greater risk of damage from UV rays. UVA and UVB rays can cause or speed up several diseases of the eye or its supporting structures and because they occur over a long time, they may happen surreptitiously and are irreversible.
While sunscreens have proven to be an effective shield for our skin from damaging ultraviolet radiation, many sun screens on the open market contain chemical screens that are absorbed into our skin.
In all likelihood, these have been developed to make sunscreens more appealing to the public than the “physical” screens that are not absorbed into the skin. Physical screens include Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. A problem with the physical screens is that they do tend to leave a white film on the skin because they will not be absorbed into your skin.
There are two different types of UV filters found in Sunscreens:
- Chemical filters: work by absorbing, scattering and reflecting UV radiation. These chemical filters are absorbed by the skin and work from within. This is why they must be applied 15-20 minutes before going in the sun – to give the filters time to be absorbed into your skin so that they can do their job. You will find a wide array of UVB filters used among sunscreen manufacturers, but there are fewer UVA filters available.
- Physical filters: work by absorbing, scattering and reflecting UV radiation. Physical filters remain on the surface of the skin and are not absorbed. Physical filters are comprised of Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide.
- Work in shaded areas when able
- Wear full-body coverage clothing, including: full-brimmed hats, long-sleeve shirts and full-length pants made of tightly woven fabric that is lightweight
- Wear full-spectrum sunglasses that protect from UVA and UVB rays
- Apply SPF of 30+ at least twenty minutes before going outside
- Use lip balm that has a SPF of at least 15
Sun protection training and materials should be provided to staff, encouraging them to practice sun safety both on the job and engaging in outdoor pastimes.
These guidelines should be communicated and reinforced to employees through verbal reminders, posters, signs, pamphlets, notice, payroll stuffers, newsletters, and meetings.
This is a measure of the sunscreen’s protection against UVB radiation, but not UVA radiation which does not cause sunburns or tans.
Example: If you normally start to get a sunburn on unprotected skin in twenty minutes in the sun, then an SPF 15 would (ideally) provide you with 15 x 20 minutes of protection, or 300 minutes of protection against burning. This does not prevent other damage to your skin from occurring, and it is recommended that you still reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.
UVA rays do not cause burning, but they are responsible for premature aging of the skin and suppression of the immune system. SPF does not refer to protection from UVA rays.
In addition, much of the work done happens in the spring and summer months where UV radiation is higher as well. Therefore, it is important that outdoor workers take precautions to protecting their skin and being safe.
Here are some helpful hints. Know the Intensity of UV Rays. UV Radiation is more intense under certain time frames or conditions. Such as:
- From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- When there is a lack of thick cloud cover
- From mid-spring through mid-fall
- At higher altitudes
- Reflective surfaces, such as water and glass can direct additional UV rays toward people.
There are links between intermittent and intense sun exposure (resulting in burns) in adolescence and the development of skin cancers later in life (“Canadian Cancer Society’s Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics (2014). Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014. pp. 87.), and skin cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canadian youth from 15-35 years old (Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation, “About Skin Cancer”).
Regular use of sunscreen with an SPF of 15+ during the first 18 years of life can tremendously reduce the risk of skin cancer. However, before the age of three, sunscreen does not provide adequate protection for developing skin and the best protection is to keep sun exposure to a minimum. Even a suntan is harmful to children, as tanning is an outward sign of internal skin damage.
If you detect any changes or any moles that are asymmetrical or have irregular borders, uneven colours, or a larger diameter than 6mm, you need to report it to your doctor as soon as possible. These could be signs of skin cancer.
Here is some advice for treating a mild sunburn:
- Avoid creams or lotions that may hold heat inside the skin or may contain numbing medication (i.e. Benzocaine or lidocaine)
- Use of Aloe Vera
- Do not wash burned skin with harsh soap
- For pain relief, you may use ibuprofen or acetaminophen, as directed
- Do not give aspirin to children
- Cover all sunburned areas
In the case of a severe sunburn, seek medical attention. Symptoms include:
- Sunburn that forms blisters or is extremely painful
- Facial swelling
- Nausea, fever or severe chills
- Pale or cool skin
- Rapid pulse or rapid breathing
- Headache, confusion or a feeling of faintness or dizziness
- Signs of dehydration (increased thirst, dry eyes and mouth, no urine output)
- Signs of skin infection (increasing redness, warmth, pain, swelling, or pus)
- Eyes that hurt and are sensitive to light
Toronto and Montreal are well known to have these heat waves. High temperatures close to 40 degrees can be reached, which can be dangerous for your health (causing illnesses like heat stroke, and even death). You need to be very careful and follow some steps to protect yourself.
For heat safety tips click here.
People at tanning salons may tell you their lights are safe, but the fact is their lights may give from 10 to 15 times as much UVA as the sun.
Many studies have demonstrated that the risk of developing cutaneous melanoma can increase up to 75% when tanning devices are used before the age of 35.
The UV index is a simplified measurement system for the sun’s damaging rays and a guideline to protection.
- 0-2 – Low Risk – minimal sun protection required (unless near water or snow). Wear sunglasses if bright.
- 3-5 – Moderate Risk – take precautions – wear sunscreen, sunhat, sunglasses, seek shade during peak hours of 11 am to 4 pm.
- 6-7 – High Risk – wear sun protective clothing, sunscreen, and seek shade.
- 8-10 – Avoid the sun – seek shade – wear sun protective clothing, sun screen & sunglasses. White sand increases UV radiation exposure.
- 11 + – Take full precautions. Unprotected skin can burn in minutes. Avoid the sun between 11 am and 4 pm, wear sunscreens & sun protective clothing.
Steps of a Skin Cancer Self-Exam
- Using a mirror in a well lit room, check the front of your body -face, neck, shoulders, arms, chest, abdomen, thighs and lower legs.
- Turn sideways, raise your arms and look carefully at the right and left sides of your body, including the underarm area.
- With a hand-held mirror, check your upper back, neck and scalp. Next, examine your lower back, buttocks, backs of thighs and calves.
- Examine your forearms, palms, back of the hands, fingernails and in between each finger.
- Finally, check your feet – the tops, soles, toenails, toes and spaces in between.
Canadian Dermatology Association, patient handout “Melanoma Skin Cancer: Know the Signs, Save a Life” 2009.
Sources: Health Canada – Canadian Cancer Society – Shade Foundation – BC Cancer Foundation