What you should know about sunscreen

With so many sunscreen products on the market, how do we know which one is best and which brand to trust? A good bet is to go with the guidelines from the Canadian Dermatology Association



I received a magazine called My Skin that was published by the Canadian Dermatology Association. With a family history of melanoma and being of Irish descent, I read all 16 pages with great interest. Although the damage I did as a young teen putting on baby oil and baking in the sun till I blistered cannot be reversed, I can make sure my 10-year-old son is well protected.

I find there is much confusion about sunscreen; many of us don’t know which sun protection factor (SPF) to choose, how much to apply, which brand to trust and what some of the terminology means on the labels. According to the association, start by choosing a sunscreen labelled “broad spectrum,” which means the product meets Health Canada’s requirement to block a specified amount of UVA. Then make sure it has an SPF of 30 or higher, which means it takes 30 times longer for the skin protected with sunscreen to burn compared to unprotected skin. If you or the kids are going to be swimming, it is smart to use a product that says “water/sweat resistant.”

According to the article, the most common mistake we make is not applying a sufficient amount. Studies show that people put on between one quarter to one half of what was used in determining the SPF of the product. “To get the protection the SPF promises, you need to apply the amount that was used when the product was tested in the lab,” the article states. “This means applying one full teaspoon to the face, ears and neck, one teaspoon to each arm, two teaspoons to the torso and two teaspoons each to the legs when wearing a swimsuit.

Also, it isn’t necessary to buy sunscreen labelled “babies” or “kids” because all sunscreen ingredients approved by Health Canada are approved for use in children six months of age and older. Babies six months and younger should be kept out of the sun.  Children and those with sensitive skin tend to better tolerate sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Because sun damage accumulated at a young age can contribute to the development of skin cancer later in life, childhood is the best time to protect kids from dangerous rays and teach them sun-protection habits they will hopefully use throughout their lives. Apart from sunscreen, kids should wear wide-brimmed hats, wraparound sunglasses and long-sleeved sun-protective clothing.

If you would like to know which sunscreens the Canadian Dermatology Association has approved, look for the organization’s logo on the product or visit dermatology.ca

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