7 tips to enjoy sun safely and protect against skin cancer

Excerpt: Protecting your skin from the sun is essential to prevent skin cancer, the most common of all cancer types. To enjoy outdoor sun safely, wear a wide-brimmed hat and tightly woven clothing, seek shade at peak times and use SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen. Check your skin regularly to detect and treat skin cancer early, avoid indoor tanning, and be aware of medications that can increase sun sensitivity.

May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month.* Although a moderate amount of sunshine can offer some health benefits—such as lifting mood by boosting low levels of the brain chemical serotonin and strengthening bones by increasing low vitamin D levels,* according to Healthline—enjoying the sun safely is critical to prevent skin cancer.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancer types. It represents about one-third of all new cases of cancer in Canada,* reports the Public Health Agency of Canada. Fortunately, most cases of skin cancer are preventable, including malignant melanomas, which are less common but more dangerous and the type most likely to be fatal, if not detected early,* according to the Canadian Dermatology Association.

How do I prevent skin cancer?

Here are some tips to help prevent skin cancer and detect it early.

  1. Cover up. Clothes protect your skin from the sun even better than sunscreen,* advises the Canadian Cancer Society. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and tightly woven clothing to prevent the UV rays of light from passing through to your skin.
  2. Seek shade at peak times. Care for your skin by limiting time in the sun between 11am and 3pm when the sun’s rays are strongest, and seek shade under trees, an awning, or umbrella.*
  3. Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen. Use an SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen and a minimum SPF 30 lip balm,* advises the Canadian Dermatology Association.
  4. Protect your eyes. Sunglasses are not just a fashion accessory. The skin around your eyes is some of the thinnest on the body and more susceptible to damage from UV rays,* says Mayo Clinic. Proper sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection help prevent skin cancer and vision loss from cataracts, or damage to the cornea.*
  5. Do regular skin checks. Checking your skin monthly can lead to early detection of melanoma and greatly improve survival. About 70% of melanomas are discovered by patients themselves or family members, and early-stage melanoma has a 90% cure rate.* Possible signs of melanoma include moles that change shape, grow larger, have a mixture of different colours and irregular borders, or show new symptoms such as bleeding, crusting or itching,* advises Cancer Care Ontario. If you notice any of these changes, consult your doctor.
  6. Be aware of medications that increase sun sensitivity. Some medications, including antibiotics, water pills, antidepressants and anti-diabetes drugs, can cause some people to experience sunburn, blisters, rashes or swelling when out in the sun* and increase skin cancer risk,* according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about possible sun-related side effects from any of your medications.
  7. Avoid tanning equipment. Tanning beds produce harmful UVA and UVB rays, which increase the risk of developing skin cancer, ocular melanoma, and cataracts.*