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The Skin in the Sun

Ultraviolet Radiation


  • UV radiation is part of the electromagnetic (light) spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun. It has wavelengths shorter than visible light, making it invisible to the naked eye. 

  • These wavelengths are classified as UVA, UVB, or UVC. 


Ultraviolet Radiation and its relationship to our skin

  • The evidence is clear that sun damage is a substantial risk factor for skin cancer 

  • UV radiation damages the skin's cellular DNA and produces genetic mutations that can lead to skin cancer. The World Health Organization has identified UV as a proven human carcinogen (a substance or exposure capable of causing cancer in living tissue)

  • UVB is what causes skin reddening and sunburn, thereby contributing to tanning and photo-aging.

  • The way a tan works is actually by causing injury to the skin's DNA. The skin then darkens as a defence against further DNA damage. This defence, like many human defences can lead to consequences, and in this case this can be skin cancer.

  • Tanning booths primarily emit UVA. The high-pressure sunlamps used in tanning salons emit doses of UVA as much as 12 times that of the sun (Skin Cancer Foundation data).

  • UVA and UVB also suppress the immune system, reducing your ability to fight off these and other maladies.

  • This ultraviolet radiation also plays a role in eye damage and is implicated in diseases such as cataracts.

  • We therefore need protection from both UVA (I and II) and UVB.


Sun Protection Strategies 


Seeking shade

  • Peak UV radiationtimes here in the west coast of Canada are between 10am-2pm. Seeking the shade at these times is generally a good idea.

  • Newborns should be kept out of the sun or at least exposure be minimised. Cover and shade them appropriately.

Harm reduction strategies

  • We should all dress to limit UV exposure

  • Special sun-protective clothes with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) indicate how much UV radiation can penetrate the fabric; the higher the UPF, the more protection. 

  • Bright- or dark-coloured, lustrous clothes reflect more UV radiation than do pastels and bleached cottons.

  • Tightly woven, loose-fitting clothes provide more of a barrier between your skin and the sun. 

  • Broad-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses help shield the sensitive skin on your head, neck, and eyes. These are areas that usually sustain a lot of sun damage.


The Lowdown on Sunscreen


What does sunscreen do? 

  • We should all dress to limit UV exposure

  • SPF is not an amount of protection but it indicates how long it will take for UVB rays to redden (burn) skin when using a sunscreen, compared to how long skin would take to redden (burn) without the product. 

    • E.g. someone using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will take 15 times longer to redden (burn) than without the sunscreen. 

  • When it comes to Pediatrics, many dermatologists recommend ≥SPF 50 be used.

  • Since both UVA and UVB are harmful, you need protection from both kinds of rays. 

  • In addition a sunscreen should have some combination of the following UVA-screening ingredients: stabilized avobenzone, ecamsule (a.k.a. MexorylTM), oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide. 

  • Terms often seen on labels include ‘multi spectrum’, ‘broad spectrum’ or ‘UVA/UVB protection’.

  • It should be known that there is no consensus on how much protection these terms indicate.

  • Most UV filters are chemical: They form a thin, protective film on the surface of the skin and absorb the UV radiation before it penetrates the skin. 

  • The physical sunscreens are insoluble particles that reflect UV away from the skin. 

  • Most sunscreens contain a mixture of chemical and physical active ingredients.


How to use Sunscreen

  • Use on unexposed skin.

  • Apply generously. Less is not more. 

  • Apply 0.5-1 ounce (1-2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your child’s entire body 30 minutes if possible before they go outside. This is approximately 2mg/cm2

  • Reapply the sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.Remember, no product is fully waterproof. 

  • Despite what you may read, many vehicles (different screens) can be left down to patient choice and preference. Simply ensure that the choice meets the requirements needed for protection.

  • For Patients with eczema, they may find some brands irritate more than others.

  • Beware of “natural” products that may nothave sun-screening agents in them; always check the label. 


Spray vs. Lotion

  • When it comes to the choice between sprays and lotions, lotions offer more protection because you can tell how much you are putting on your child’s skin. 

  • On average, people tend to get less sunscreen out of a spray because they only spray for a couple of seconds.Overall, sunscreen lotion is the best way to go and spray is not recommended. 

  • However if spray is the only sunscreen you have on hand, make sure to spray the sunscreen onto your hands and then rub it onto your child’s skin and face. 

  • Be sure to avoid getting the spray into the eyes or mouth.


Sunscreen Use < 6 months of age 


Take care and love the skin that you are in. - Dr. Kevin Ansah


*Also remember the sun not only burns, it heats. With prolonged heat, dehydration follows. Hydration will be key.*

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