When should you avoid the sun and when you are outside, what kind of SPF should your sunscreen be? Canadian cancer care experts tried to answer these questions Monday when they released new sun safety guidelines, the first update in 20 years.
The Canadian Cancer Society, along with 27 other organizations, including Cancer Care Ontario and the Canadian Dermatology Association, collaborated to come up with the updates.
“The first thing that people should know is that in Canada the sun is strong enough to cause skin cancer. And we’re actually seeing skin cancer rates going up,” Dr. Robert Nuttall, assistant director of health policy at the Canadian Cancer Society, told Global News.
For the past two years, Nuttall says experts have been combing through the latest research on skin cancer and sun exposure to carve out new recommendations for sun safety. In the past two decades “the evidence has changed,” he said.
Before, the advice wasn’t streamlined either. Health officials now have recommendations that are uniform, regardless of the organization doling out the guidance.
“It’s kind of confusing if you hear one message from one group that doesn’t exactly fit with the message from another, so I think having a consensus, having us all work from a basic core of messaging is really important so that people hear the same thing from everybody,” said Dr. Cheryl Rosen, head of dermatology at Toronto Western Hospital and a participating physician with the Canadian Dermatology Association.
The updates include:
Know when to avoid the sun: Canadians need to be extra careful to protect their skin between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Nuttall says. The time frame used to be 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is when the UV index is three or more, typically between April and September in Canada.
In this case, Nuttall said the experts pored over data that was most important from a Canadian context.
“The sun is in Canada is different from the sun in Australia and the southern states, for example. We wanted to make sure we were looking at relevant Canadian data,” he said.
Clothing is better: Don’t just rely on sunblock – cover up as much as possible with tightly woven or UV-protective labelled clothing. Clothes generally provide better protection than sunscreen. Use a hat, and wear long sleeves and pants when possible to cover up.
The clothing doesn’t have to be UV-protective all the time. Hold the fabric up to the light and if it doesn’t seep through, you should be in the clear, Nuttall says.
Use a higher SPF: The old recommendations called for SPF 15, but the updated guidelines are calling on Canadians to use SPF 30 at minimum. The sunscreen should be labelled as broad-spectrum and water resistant, too.
An SPF 30 would cover off about 97 per cent of UVB rays, while an SPF 15 covers about 93 per cent. Both coverages are strong, but the experts worry about applying enough of the product. It’s easy to miss spots or apply too little – they’re erring on the safe side by recommending a higher SPF, Nuttall said.
If you’ve had skin cancer or a strong family history of the disease, stick to a higher SPF, too.
And then there are the guidelines that have remained the same: