What is the Best Sunscreen and How Much Do I Need?

I love to spend time outside during the summer but am worried about skin cancer. What is the best type of sunscreen and how much SPF do I really need?

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancer types, with one third of all new cases in Canada diagnosed as skin cancer. There are many different types of skin cancer and approximately 90 per cent are caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.

Who is at risk of skin cancer?

In addition to prolonged exposure from UV rays, key factors that may increase your risk of developing skin cancer include being fair skinned, the presence of multiple moles on the face or body, regular use of tanning beds, past severe sunburns, and/or a personal or family history of skin cancer.

It is important to emphasize that people of all colours are at risk for skin cancer, skin ageing, and sunburn from spending time in the sun.

How can I reduce my risk of skin cancer?

The number one tip is to limit or reduce your time outside, especially during peak UV periods during the midday hours (between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.). Other sun-safety habits include:

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, wide brimmed hats, sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. You don’t need to buy expensive sun-protective clothing: darker-coloured clothing offers more sun protection than white or pale colours.
  • Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB sunrays, with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 and reapplying it often (about every two hours). If you are swimming or sweating, you should reapply it more often.
  • Planning outdoor activities in the shade as much as possible.
  • Avoiding tanning beds. It’s simply untrue that a tan will provide protection from the sun on a holiday. At most, a tan is the equivalent to a sunscreen with an SPF of 2-4 and is not enough to keep you safe in the sun.

Does sunscreen work?

Numerous clinical studies clearly show that the use of sunscreens can reduce the risk of many different types of skin cancer by up to 40 per cent.

What is the best sunscreen?

Look for products approved by the Canadian Dermatology Association. An ideal sunscreen should:

  • Have a minimum SPF of 30 (if using less than SPF 30, reapply more often especially if you are swimming or sweating profusely from physical activity).
  • Be gentle to the skin to avoid irritation.
  • Not clog pores.
  • Be scent-free or contain a minimal fragrance.
  • Be water resistant.

What type of sunscreen is available in Canada?

There are two main types of sunscreens available for purchase:

  • Physical sunscreen: also known as mineral sunscreen, these usually contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that sit on top of the skin and block the sun’s rays.
  • Chemical sunscreen: contains a variety of sun-protective ingredients like oxybenzone that prevent UV rays from damaging skin cells.

Does sunscreen cause cancer?

This controversial topic is partly due to social media influencers spreading misinformation about how sunscreen can cause more harm than good. Sunscreens do not cause skin cancer and any correlation is likely due to individuals spending more time outdoors, exposed to harmful UV rays.

What level of SPF do I really need?

An SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93 per cent of UVB radiation, and SPF 30 blocks 97 per cent. After that, the difference in protection is small. SPF 50 blocks 98 per cent, and SPF 100 stops 99 per cent of UV rays from reaching your skin. Save yourself some money and don’t overspend on expensive products with an SPF over 30! Read other sunscreen 101 facts from the Canadian Dermatology Association.

How much sunscreen do I need to use?

It’s more than you think: for each application, use about six teaspoons (roughly one-shot glass worth) of sunscreen on your body, and one additional teaspoon for your face and neck.

In addition, experts advise using a cream-based sunscreen over a spray-on sunscreen. Because spray-on sunscreens are fast drying, and sometimes not clearly visible once sprayed onto the skin, it is difficult to know if it was applied evenly on the body.

Does sunscreen prevent my body from getting vitamin D while outdoors?

Vitamin D is produced by the body when your skin is exposed to UV rays. Even though sunscreens block out most UV rays, scientific studies have not shown that using sunscreen regularly will affect vitamin D levels in the body or cause a deficiency of vitamin D.

The information provided in this article is for personal use, reference, and education only. ASEBP does not provide medical advice. Before starting any medication or product, you should always consult with your pharmacist, health care provider, or call Alberta Health Link at 811.

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