Don't Get Burned
When summer finally arrives, it’s tempting to get out and soak up the sun, but don’t forget that the sun can do serious damage!
We talked to Ian Fleck, Pharmacy Manager at Prairie Sky Co-op in Weyburn, Sask., about the importance of protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.
Why is sun protection important?
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun—whether short-wave UVA or long-wave UVB—causes short- and long-term negative effects. UV rays cause sunburn, premature aging and wrinkles, harm to the eyes and skin cancer – the most common but most preventable type of cancer.
“UV rays pass through clouds, fog and haze and can cause damage even on cloudy days,” explained Fleck. Water, sand and snow can reflect rays, making them stronger.
Whenever you’re outside, it’s important to wear sunscreen to prevent UV rays from penetrating the skin.
How do sunscreens work?
Fleck explained that there are two types of sunscreens: physical or chemical.
“Physical sunscreens sit on top of the skin and reflect UV rays. Chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin and when they absorb UV rays, they convert them to a harmless by-product,” he said.
Physical sunscreens are usually better for people with sensitive skin. However, they form a film on the skin that doesn’t absorb well. Chemical sunscreens are better for swimming or sweating—they’re more water-resistant and absorb quicker.
Sunscreens contain chemicals that expire, so don’t use sunscreens past their expiration dates, and throw out any that have been frozen or subjected to high heat.
What is SPF?
Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, is a measure of how long sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays.
“A sunscreen with an SPF 15 will block 93 per cent of UVB rays and an SPF 30 will block 97 per cent of UVB rays,” said Fleck.
It’s recommended to always use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30, because broad spectrum sunscreens will block both UVB and UVA rays.
Who should use sunscreen?
Everyone older than six months who will be exposed to the sun should wear sunscreen. People taking medications should talk to their pharmacist, because some medications can increase sensitivity to the sun.
What do I need to know about applying sunscreen?
Apply a generous amount of sunscreen before going out in the sun and every two hours in the sun. Re-apply after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
“Always apply sunscreen before applying make-up or insect repellant and remember to wear it even on cloudy days and in the winter,” Fleck told us.
Put sunscreen on any exposed skin, remembering your nose, ears and neck even if you’re wearing a hat. Pay attention to areas like bald spots, the backs of your hands and tops of your feet. Adults need two to three tablespoons to cover their body and one teaspoon to cover their neck and face.
How do I treat a sunburn?
If you do happen to get a sunburn, there are first-aid options available at home.
“To treat a sunburn, take a cool (not cold) bath or apply cool, wet compresses to ease the pain and reduce heat,” said Fleck.
Pure aloe vera gel will soothe the burn. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can reduce pain and itch.
You may apply moisturizing creams after a few days, but avoid ointments, especially right after a burn, as they can trap heat and intensify the burn. Stay out of the sun until you’ve healed and see your doctor for severe burns or if blisters develop.