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Sun Safety

Can't wait to soak up a little sun? You're not alone. Most of us look forward to warm, sunny days and like the feel of the sun rays on our skin. Although exposure to small amounts of ultraviolet radiation can have beneficial effects, such as vitamin D production, there are significant health risks linked with over exposure. Here is some important information on how to enjoy the sun safely by protecting your skin and eyes.

What is ultraviolet (UV) radiation?

  • That warm feeling you get from sunshine is ultraviolet (UV) radiation passing through the top layer of your skin cells.
  • There are 2 types of UV rays that are strongly linked to skin cancer.
    • UVA rays penetrate deeply, causing aging and wrinkling of the skin.
    • UVB rays are responsible for redness or sunburn that is a more immediate, and causes obvious signs of UV damage.
  • On a windy or cloudy day, even if you don't feel the warmth, UV radiation still reaches your skin.

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Why are ultraviolet rays dangerous?

  • Each time skin is exposed to sun and becomes tanned or burned, damage is done to individual cells.
  • Some cells die and others repair themselves.
  • Cells that live but cannot repair themselves become defective cells.
  • Usually our bodies are able to get rid of defective cells: this is a task for our immune system.
  • However, UV radiation weakens the body's immune system, and this makes it more difficult to destroy defective cells.
  • Defective cells that are not destroyed slowly grow and produce a tumour. This is skin cancer.
  • Skin cancer alone accounts for about 1/3 of all cancers diagnosed in Ontario.
  • About 1 in every 7 Canadians will get some form of skin cancer during their lifetime such as:
    • basal cell carcinoma
    • squamous cell carcinoma
    • melanoma
  • Chronic exposure of the eyes to the sun’s UV rays is also a risk factor for the development of several eye diseases like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

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Are tanning beds safe?

  • There is no safe way to tan. Tanned skin is damaged skin.
  • UV from the sun's rays or from lights in a tanning salon causes skin cell damage that can lead to skin cancer.
  • In fact, tanning bed lights may emit 5 times as much UVA as the sun!

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How can I reduce my risk of skin cancer and eye damage?

Most of this skin and eye damage from UV radiation is preventable. Here's how you can protect yourself:

  • Limit your time in the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Look for shade or create shaded areas for outdoor activities.
  • Wear clothing to cover arms and legs.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim.
  • Put on UV protective sunglasses.
  • Use a sunscreen with SPF 30 (Sun Protection Factor) or higher that gives protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Reapply according to the directions, especially after swimming or sweating.
  • When using both sunscreen and an insect repellent at the same time, apply sunscreen first and then wait 30 minutes to apply the insect repellent. Sunscreen should be used liberally. Always use insect repellents according to the manufacturer's directions and apply it sparingly. Insect repellents may decrease the effectiveness of sunscreen, so make sure you use other sun protective measures as well as sunscreen (for example shade, hats, clothing).
  • Do not use sunscreen or insect repellent on infants less than 6 months of age.

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