The sun is essential to life. However, you must expose yourself to it safely. Even brief exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can:
- Damage the skin
- Damage the eyes
- Increase risk of skin cancer
Tanning is a sign that the skin has sustained deep cellular damage. It is not recommended to tan, whether under the sun or with artificial tanning lamps.
Check the UV Index to find out the intensity of the sun’s UV rays when planning your outdoor activities. The greater the UV Index, the stronger the UV rays and the more you should be protected. You can get daily UV Index by checking local weather forecasts.
People at risk
Some people are more sensitive to UV rays because they naturally have less melanin in their skin. Melanin is a black pigment that absorbs UV rays and protects the skin.
People most at risk of harming themselves after exposure to UV rays have one of the following:
- Pale skin, freckles, skin that turns red quickly in the sun;
- Blue, green or grey eyes;
- Blond or red hair.
You should always protect yourself, even when the sky is cloudy.
How to protect yourself
Here are a few recommendations:
- Protect yourself properly if you stay in the sun for more than 15 minutes, especially between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. This is the period when the intensity of UV rays is highest
- Never use artificial tanning equipment
During outdoor activities
- Stay in the shade as much as possible, even at the beach, by using a parasol
- Wear protective clothing such as a wide-brimmed hat or a cap, long-sleeved-shirt and long pants. Opt for woven or tightly knitted clothing rather than clothing made of looser fabric
- Wear sunglasses that protect your eyes as much from UVA rays as they do for UVB rays. Opt for glasses whose shape closely follows your face, and that protect both the front and the side of your eyes
- If you cannot avoid exposure to the sun, regularly apply sunscreen. Note that sunscreen should never be used to purposefully prolong your exposure to the sun.
- Choose a sunscreen that protects you against UVA and UVB rays with a sun protection factor of 30 or more.
- Apply the sunscreen on the parts of the body not protected by clothing. A simple way to determine how much sunscreen to use is to fill the palm of your hand.
- Put on sunscreen 30 minutes before exposure to the sun, especially before and after swimming or moderate- to high-intensity activities.
- Avoid taking medication that makes the skin sensitive to UV rays.
- Use a sunscreen approved by the Canadian Dermatology Association.
Protect your kids
Children’s skin is more sensitive to sunlight than that of adults. Avoid exposing them to the sun without protection between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Lead by example by following the recommended protection measures yourself.
Dress them with clothing that covers their arms, legs and head.
Here are some additional measures for protecting children.
For babies under 6 months
It is preferable to keep your baby away from UV rays, in the shade or under an umbrella. Don’t leave your baby in the sun; this will prevent the sun’s reflection from the sand, water or snow from getting in your baby’s eyes.
The skin is very delicate at this age. Applying sunscreen might cause allergic reactions.
For children over 6 months
About 30 minutes before your child is exposed to the sun, apply sunscreen to the uncovered areas of the body. Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming or moderate- to high-intensity activities.
It is a good idea to keep your child in the shade at all times to protect him or her from the sun’s rays. Up to 85% of ultraviolet (UV) rays can penetrate through clouds. So sunscreen should always be used, even when it’s cloudy.
Eyes and the sun*
The sun’s UV rays are dangerous to the eyes and can be reflected by sand, water and snow.
In bright light, pupils naturally constrict, reducing the intensity of the rays entering the eyes. However, the best way to protect your child’s eyes is to put a large brimmed hat or cap on his head.
Never seat your child in facing the sun. Shade is best.
If you decide to put sunglasses on your child, make sure they protect against UV rays before you buy them. Look for the words “100% UV protection” or “UV 400.”
* Source: From Tiny Tot to Toddler, Institut national de santé publique du Québec, 2020
Medicines and UV rays
Some medicines are photosensitizers, meaning they cause the skin to react abnormally to the sun's rays. They can cause reactions such as redness and hives.
If you or your child take medication, ask a health professional, such as your pharmacist, to find out if they are photosensitizers.
The law prohibits tanning services to people under the age of 18.
There is no safe period of exposure, avoid all indoor tanning.
The risks associated with indoor tanning are real:
- premature aging of the skin,
- eye inflammation,
- weakening of the immune system.
Tanning in a salon does not protect us from the effects of the sun or from sunburns.