It's officially summer. And what does that mean to us Canadians?... It means time to get as-much-sun-as-possible-before-the-frost-returns. Backyards, beaches, festivals, parks...you name it - we will be there!
But then we start to notice that after our 45-minute lunch-break spent in the sun, our nose is a little bit more pink than it would have been last year. A weekend stroll to the park results in that red-neck look that you'd rather avoid. It's time to face the facts: the effects of the sun are much stronger now than they were when we were growing up. Gone are the days of baby oil-soaked suntanning or of sending the kids to camp without that morning sunscreen struggle. As the ozone layer that protects us from the sun's UV rays gets thinner, our skin is more vulnerable.
So what do we do? How do we protect ourselves and our families from a) the irritation and pain of sunburns, but also b) prevent skin cancer - the most common cause of which is prolonged sun exposure?
- Sit in the shade. Yep, you read that right. The number one way to protect your skin is to avoid the sun.
- Wear a hat. And a tshirt, and some pants. Beyond the hat, this is a tricky one once the 40-degree humidex of Ontario summer has reared its head. Just remember to be wise, and, when in doubt, refer to #1. (If you are the outdoorsy type who knows they will be in prolonged sun, there are great UV-protective clothing options from companies like Columbia and MEC).
- Wear sunscreen. Now this is where things get tricky...What does SPF mean?... What should I be using for my kids?...Will I get my daily dose of vitamin D if I use sunscreen religiously?..
Let's break down the sunscreen questions, once and for all!
- VITAMIN D: Our skin is responsible for making vitamin D when it is exposed to UV rays from the sun. And the list of benefits of vitamin D are so long (immune function, bone health, mood support - to name a few) that I won't go on about it here. Suffice it to say that a BIT of sun exposure is healthy and necessary for us. But you probably don't slather your entire body with sunscreen every single day of the summer. Which means you probably get a healthy exposure to UV rays, no matter! So let's continue on with our sun safety...
- SPF = SUN PROTECTION FACTOR This is a measure of how long the sunscreen will remain effective at preventing a sunburn. This will vary from person to person, depending on your own skin. If you typically burn in 10 minutes, an SPF of 15 will prevent you from burning for 150 minutes (multiply 10 x 15).
- But! Protecting yourself from sunburn is only part of the puzzle. UVA rays can actually cause long-term damage to the DNA of our skin cells WITHOUT any redness or pain detected! And most sunscreens on the market are not yet effective against UVA rays.
- BEST INGREDIENTS: Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide These are called "mineral sunscreens", and they literally form a physical barrier between your skin and the sun. These have been shown to be most effective against cancer-causing UVA rays, compared with the conventional chemicals used in drugstore-brand sunscreens. YOU READ THAT RIGHT: These 2 ingredients are MOST effective at preventing cancer!
- WORST INGREDIENTS: These are the ones to avoid. And if you're motivated to be more health-conscious for your kids, these are the ingredients to avoid for them - and then just share their sunscreen so that everyone reaps the benefits of avoiding harsh chemicals!
- OXYBENZONE: disrupts hormones; causes male fish to grow ovaries; highly absorbed through the skin; enough said!
- 4-METHYLBENZYLIDENE CAMPHOR (4-MBC): toxic to thyroid gland; hormone disruptor
- HOMOSALATE: sunlight breaks it down into harmful byproducts
- OXTINOXATE: mimics estrogen
*FAVOURITE BRANDS: Green Beaver, Badger, Desert Essence, Alba Botanica MINERAL *(if it doesn't say Mineral on it, read ingredients list for homosalate), and for drugstore brands -Banana Boat Natural Reflect is not terrible.