The sun is out – it’s time to play. Yet even as we are lured outside by warmer temperatures, many Canadians worry about the risks associated with sun exposure. How can we best protect ourselves and our loved ones? Or should we go as far as cancelling our outdoor activities?
Dermatologist Jennifer Beecker doesn’t think so. “People are drawn to the sunshine – it gives them a positive feeling. We want them to be active and enjoy the sun safely.”
Yet Canadian families should also be aware that there is conclusive data linking ultraviolet (UV) radiation to skin cancer, says Dr. Beecker, who is the national chair of the Sun Awareness Program of the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA). “We know that the sun can be dangerous, but we also know how to protect ourselves by wearing clothing, a hat and sunglasses, applying sunscreen and avoiding the sun at peak times.”
And Dr. Beecker has one more suggestion: make wearing sunscreen a regular routine – much like brushing your teeth – for every family member. There is conclusive evidence that every-day use of sunscreen leads to better outcomes in terms of skin cancer risks and aging, she explains. “A study in Australia looked at two groups. One was instructed to wear sunscreen as they normally would, the other was asked to apply sunscreen every day. Within four years, there were 50 per cent less melanomas, 40 per cent less squamous cell carcinomas and 24 per cent less aging in the group wearing sunscreen on a daily basis.”
Kateline Turgeon, director of national training for sunscreen and skin care brands La Roche-Posay and Vichy, adds that in addition to using sunscreen every day, it’s important to apply enough and choose a product that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.
“It’s really important to apply the right quantity of sunscreen and re-apply periodically,” says Turgeon, who believes the best sunscreen is the one that doesn’t stay in the bottle.
Both UVA and UVB rays have been implicated in increasing skin cancer risks, but while it’s easy to find sunscreens with sufficient UVB protection, identifying products that guard against UVA can be more challenging, says Turgeon, who recommends choosing broad-spectrum sunscreens.
Broad-spectrum sunscreens bearing the UVA logo recognized by Health Canada are required to contain both UVA and UVB absorbers, says Turgeon. However, the logo doesn’t indicate the level of UVA protection offered by a specific product. “It only ensures that a sunscreen meets Health Canada’s minimum requirement for UVA protection,” she explains.
“At La Roche-Posay, all our products offer more than the minimum – we are very aware that it is important to consider UVA rays since they make up about 95 per cent of the UV radiation reaching our skin,” says Turgeon. “And since UVA rays are present throughout the day, even in the shade and behind glass, it’s important to wear sunscreen even when it doesn’t feel hot.”
Dr. Beecker agrees. “I ask people if they’re wearing sunscreen and they say, ‘Not yet.’ They don’t realize that even though it may be cooler in May, the sun is just as potent as in August.” She believes that the availability of a wide variety of CDA-recognized products makes it easy for people of all ages to find something they can comfortably use every day.
Turgeon adds that since about 80 per cent of the sun exposure people get over their lifetime happens before they turn 18, building healthy habits can lay a solid foundation for skin health and ease the minds of worried parents about the risk of UV rays when they are all heading out to play.
Become a skin checker
While Canadians are increasingly aware of the danger ultraviolet radiation poses to the skin, they can do more to minimize the risks of skin cancer, says Josée Bordeleau, medical relations and communications,
La Roche-Posay Canada. In addition to staying safe in the sun, she suggests monitoring moles diligently through self-exams and getting them checked by a dermatologist annually.
Since 2000, the incidence of melanoma has increased by 75 per cent in Canada. And this year, one out of every three cancers diagnosed in Canada will be skin cancer. Bordeleau believes the numbers are “alarming,” especially since 68 per cent of Canadians say they never had a mole check by a dermatologist, according to a recent survey.
Back for a second year, La Roche-Posay’s Become a Skin Checker campaign encourages Canadians to learn how to detect skin cancer for themselves and their loved ones and learn how to protect themselves from the sun with safe sun habits and sunscreen.
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