It’s spring time! Time to relax, get outside, and bask in the sun…or is it? Most of us are very concerned about the potential risk of developing skin cancer and so before heading outdoors, we adorn ourselves and our children with abundant amounts of sunscreen. Is this right or wrong? My answer is that it depends.
Most Canadians, rightfully concerned about UVA and UVB rays that cause sunburns and potentially skin cancer, spend very little time in the sun without using sunscreen.
It is the opinion of The Canadian Cancer Society, that one of the best ways to protect yourself from the sun is to properly cover up. Wear appropriate clothing, sunglasses, and a wide brimmed hat that covers your face, ears, and neck.
According to The Canadian Cancer Society, a small number of studies show that people who use sunscreen have a higher risk of developing skin cancer compared to people who do not use sunscreen. The reason for this finding is unknown; however, scientists think people who use sunscreen spend more time in the sun than people who don’t because of a false sense of security. They also postulate that many people do not apply enough sunscreen nor do they reapply it often enough.
It is my opinion that the best protection is indeed proper clothing and avoiding the sun at peak hours, but there are times when we need more protection and sunscreen may need to come into play. Many sunscreens out there, however, may be doing more harm than good. Here are a few reasons to take a good look at your relationship to the sun and to sunscreens:
1. An ingredient in many sunscreens, retinyl palmitate or retinol, a form of Vitamin A, may speed the development of skin tumours and lesions according to the National Toxicology Panel (NTP).
2. Many Canadians are deficient in Vitamin D due to using sunscreen too liberally. We also know that deficiency is linked with many forms of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases. I recommend 10-15 minutes of “non-sun screened” exposed skin per day.
3. The choice in sunscreens is between “chemical” sunscreens and “mineral” sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens contain compounds that penetrate the skin and convert UV radiation into heat. Most chemical sunscreens better protect against UVB radiation. Mineral sunscreens use zinc and titanium to scatter and reflect both UVA and UVB rays. Whichever type you may choose, Health Canada recommends choosing a sunscreen with an SPF factor of at least 15.
Enjoy the sun this spring and summer but know your limits and how to best protect yourself.