Spotlight on sun safety

Make your own shade at home

Getting too much sun can happen when you least expect it. You could be sitting on your deck, gardening or watching your kids playing. Why sweat it out in the sun when you can have it made in the shade? With a little planning – and perhaps some do-it-yourself projects – you can safely enjoy the time you spend in your own backyard.

Build your own shade

Structures, like a garden tent, are an easy and cost-effective way to add shade to a garden area. Garden storage or tool sheds can also be placed to give partial shade to a deck or a play area. A gazebo can provide excellent shelter from the sun. Do-it-yourself kits can be bought at hardware stores and garden centres.

Adding a retractable awning or canopy to the side of your house is also an easy way to add shade. This allows you to adjust the protection you want depending on the sun’s location. The colour and thickness of the awning material is important to consider. Thick, tightly woven material in dark colours provides the most effective protection. Awnings can be used year-round, but many are easily removed and stored away during the winter.

Installing a porch roof or backyard patio roof offers more permanent sun protection. Remember to check the sun’s path around your home before building it to make sure the structure will provide effective shade coverage.

Plant your own shade

Trees and hedges provide excellent shade around your house. How much shade will depend on how thick the leaves grow. This is not a quick solution – but it is one that may benefit you and your loved ones for years to come.

Planting deciduous trees like maple, birch, oak and beech that are native to Canada will provide excellent sun protection during the summer months. Be sure to select types of trees that provide large thick coverings of leaves that will block UV rays. For year-round protection, consider planting coniferous trees like hemlock, pine, spruce and cedar. But remember, these types of trees do not have natural canopies that provide midday shade, like deciduous trees do.

Think about how you use your space to decide which types of trees will grow best and provide you with the shade you need. When planting trees, think about:

  • the way the sun moves around your home – remember UV rays are strongest between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • the time you spend on the deck or patio
  • the location of the swimming pool, sandbox or play area

What to wear to protect your skin from the sun

Did you know that what you wear can make a big difference when it comes to protecting yourself from the sun?
Sunglasses

Sunglasses are not just a fashion accessory – they protect your eyes from damage by blocking UV rays. This is important for kids too! Look for the kind that have both UVA and UVB protection. The label might say UV 400 or 100% UV protection.

Hats
Many skin cancers develop on the face and neck. These areas need extra protection. Wear a hat with a wide brim that covers your head, face, ears and neck. Hats like baseball caps won’t give you enough protection.
UV protective clothing

Look for clothing that’s specially made to protect you from UV rays. The label shows the UV protection factor (UPF). UPF measures a fabric’s ability to block UV rays from passing through and reaching the skin. The fabrics are classified into categories based on their UPF.

Like a sunscreen’s SPF, the higher the UPF, the less UV radiation reaches the skin and the better the protection. The fabrics used for this clothing are often lightweight, and some may be treated with ingredients to help them block UV rays. Look for UPF 15 or higher. UPF 50+ blocks most UV rays.

Tightly woven clothing
Clothing doesn’t have to be labelled with a UPF to protect you from UV rays. Any tightly woven clothing prevents the rays of light from passing through to your skin. If you hold the fabric up to the light, the tighter and closer together the fibres, the less the rays of light can pass through. Tightly woven clothing doesn’t have to cost a lot to protect you from the sun.

Sunscreen 101 - tips on how to use it

Check out the tips below for more information on sunscreen products and how to use them.

Use an SPF of 30 or higher

Sunscreens are rated by the strength of their SPF. SPF stands for sun protection factor. A sunscreen’s SPF tells you its ability to screen or block out the sun’s UVB rays. SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93% of UVB rays. Sunscreen with SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays.

Look for broad spectrum and water-resistant on the label

Broad spectrum offers both UVA and UVB protection. Water-resistant means that the product stays on better in water.

Apply a generous amount

Spread evenly. The average adult needs about 2 or 3 tablespoons of sunscreen to cover their body and a teaspoon to cover their face and neck. This is about the size of a golf ball to cover your body every time.

Use sunscreen on any skin that clothing doesn't cover

Put sunscreen on your ears, chin and neck even when you’re wearing a hat. Don’t forget your nose, any bald spots, the backs of your hands and the tops of your feet. Check to see how clothing moves when you move – and put sunscreen on the skin that gets exposed.

Put sunscreen on first, before any makeup or insect repellent

Sunscreen should always be your first layer of protection.

Don't spray aerosol or pump sunscreen products directly onto your face

Spray the product on your hands and then rub it carefully over your face, avoiding your eyes and mouth.

If you forget to put it on before going outside, it's not too late

Put it on as soon as you can and reapply often.

Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours

A higher SPF doesn’t mean that you can wait before reapplying. Reapply sunscreen throughout the day, especially after swimming, sweating or toweling off – water-resistant sunscreen only works for 40 or 80 minutes, depending on the label. And remember – sunscreens are designed to help protect you when you have to be outside. You still need to protect yourself in other ways too!

Use a lip balm with SPF and reapply when needed

Your lips need to be protected too. Be sure to put more on after eating or drinking.

Apply sunscreen on cloudy days and during the winter months

Whatever the weather or season, UV rays are always there! Even if you can’t see the sun, UV rays can pass through the clouds. And in the winter, the sun’s rays reflect off the bright surface of the snow.

Try different sunscreens until you find the one you like

Talk to your pharmacist if you need help choosing a sunscreen. Choose one that feels good to you and that you find easy to apply thoroughly.

Take care with products that combine sunscreen with makeup or moisturizer

Always check that the sunscreen is broad spectrum and follow the directions for how much to apply and how often. If you’re not sure that the makeup or moisturizer protects you from both UVA and UVB rays or the packaging doesn’t include directions, you may want to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen along with it.

Check the expiry date

Sunscreens contain chemicals, and they should not be used after the expiry date because they may not work as well. Sunscreens can be affected by extreme changes in temperature. If it has been frozen or overheated or has changed colour or smell, it’s best to throw it out.
The Canadian Cancer Society supports the use of broad-spectrum sunscreens along with shade, clothing and hats, but does not endorse specific products.

Does sunscreen cause cancer?

You may have heard or read that chemicals in sunscreens are harmful and may increase your risk of developing cancer.
What do we think?

The research on oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate and parabens does not show that they cause cancer. None of these chemicals has been classified as a cancer-causing substance by any major scientific organization. The Canadian Cancer Society has studied the current research, and we believe that oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate and parabens in sunscreen do not pose a cancer risk.

We are committed to sharing important information about cancer risk to Canadians and continue to closely monitor research in this area. We also track recommendations for sunscreen use by other regulatory agencies that protect your health and the environment. The Canadian Cancer Society supports the use of any sunscreen products that are approved for sale in Canada.

What is oxybenzone?

Oxybenzone absorbs both UVA and UVB rays and protects the skin from sun damage. It’s sometimes called benzophenone-3.
Is it safe?
A small number of research studies have shown that oxybenzone can cause minor changes to cells in a petri dish – but there is currently no evidence linking it to cancer. The research on oxybenzone is limited, but no animal or human studies suggest that it might cause cancer.

What is retinyl palmitate?

It’s a form of vitamin A. It’s added to some sunscreens because it is a skin conditioner.
Is it safe?
A small number of studies have shown that retinyl palmitate can cause minor changes to cells when they are treated with UVA radiation – but there is currently no evidence that these changes are cancerous.

What are parabens?

These are preservatives used in many cosmetic products, including some sunscreens.
Are they safe?
A few studies have suggested that parabens act like estrogen in the body, which can speed up the growth of breast cancer tumours. We need more research to understand this association better.

What about studies that suggest people who use sunscreen have a higher risk of developing skin cancer?

Scientists don’t think this increased risk is caused by any chemical – it comes from the fact that people who use sunscreen spend more time in the sun than people who don’t use sunscreen. And many of these people may not be applying sunscreen properly. Scientists are also looking at whether people who use sunscreen have lower vitamin D levels, which may increase the risk of developing cancer.

Being safe in the sun is still the best way to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Protect yourself when the sun is at its strongest, cover your skin with clothing, wear a hat and sunglasses and use a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher.

If I stay out of the sun, how do I get enough vitamin D?

Vitamin D is needed for healthy bones and muscles, especially in children and the elderly. Your skin produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.

The amount of sun exposure needed to produce enough vitamin D depends on:

  • age
  • diet
  • skin colour
  • where you live
  • how strong the sun is

For most people, just a few minutes out in the sun – the short, casual exposure you get while going about daily life – will be enough. You don’t need to intentionally expose yourself to the sun or visit tanning beds to get adequate vitamin D.

How else can I get vitamin D?

Getting vitamin D from your diet (many foods are fortified with vitamin D) or by taking vitamin supplements is safer than UV-ray exposure. Learn more about vitamin D in your diet and supplements.