May is skin cancer awareness month. Some things you should know.

We all love the sun. A sunny day makes everything seems so much happier and it feels great to be outdoors.   And then there are tanning beds….In recognition of skin cancer awareness month, here’s a few thoughts and tips for staying safe and minimizing the chance of developing sun damage, premature aging and melanoma.

I was told by my doctor that the SPF 50 sunscreen I am using was not high enough and they suggested an SPF 90 that they retail.”

Did you know, that sunscreen products labelled higher than SPF 50 are considered misleading to the consumer?

An SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UV, an SPF 45 about 98%. After that, the UV protection offered increases by fractions of a percent. (by comparison an SPF 100, about 99%) *no sunscreen can block 100% of UV rays. Unfortunately, a high SPF has been linked to a false sense of protection which encourages people to spend more time under the sun and exposed to harmful UV rays. Don’t be fooled by a higher SPF. An SPF 30 is sufficient for daily use, but be sure to reapply regularly when you are out and about.

“I don’t sit in the sun, but I do spend a lot of time driving, and my office has a sun facing window.”

Glass effectively blocks UVB rays, but UVA, which penetrates deeply into the skin (and is responsible for wrinkling, sagging, premature aging, DNA damage) passes through easily. If you are frequently driving your car, you may notice more “left side” skin damage.

Office workers with window exposure are also accumulating UVA damage even though they are indoors. Another reminder to always wear a “broad spectrum” sunscreen, even on cloudy days as the UV penetrates the cloud cover.

“I only use tanning beds to get my dose of vitamin D.”

A fair skinned person, gets all the vitamin D they need when they spend 10-15 minutes, twice a week (unprotected) in the sun.   Regardless of what the tanning industry says, regular use of indoor tanning beds, before the age of 35, increases your risk of malignant melanoma (the nasty and deadly kind of skin cancer) by 75% or more.

Enjoy the sun, but enjoy it responsibly.

  • always wear a broad spectrum sunscreen (spf 30 is  adaquate)
  • reapply sunscreen regularly.
  • when using a chemical sunscreen apply a minimum of 30 minutes before sun exposure
  • don’t forget to apply to your hands and ears. (if your hair is thinning, scalp as well)
  • wear a sunscreen even on cloudy days to prevent premature aging
  • be sure to get suspicious spots and moles checked annually.

Visit the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation website for more.