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Sun Safety

Even a few severe sunburns increase your chances of getting skin cancer.

Skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, but rates of skin cancer are rising in British Columbia.

Overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays causes skin damage that can lead to skin cancer, including melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer. And exposure to UV light from tanning beds or sun lamps can also cause skin cancer. In fact, there are no safe tanning beds. Because many cases of serious skin cancer begin with childhood sunburns, sun safety for kids is especially important. 

If you have had any kind of skin cancer—whether basal cell, squamous cell, or melanoma—your risk of developing another skin cancer is increased. Survivors of kidney cancer are also at higher risk of developing the most dangerous type of skin cancer, melanoma.

Sunbathing under a parasolThe chance of developing skin cancer in British Columbia is about 1 in 7

  • The chance of developing melanoma in British Columbia is about 1 in 100
  • Skin cancer can kill you
  • All skin cancers need to be treated and that involves surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Removal of skin cancer can leave you scarred for life
  • Aside from skin cancer, the sun causes wrinkling, sagging skin, freckles, moles and cataracts. 

    Being sun safe doesn't mean you have to hide in a cave! However, even on a cloudy day and in winter, you should follow these steps to protect your skin.

    • Try to limit the amount of time you spend in direct sun between 11 am and 3 pm.
    • Seek out shade, or make your own shade with an umbrella or awning.
    • Cover up with loose-fitting long sleeves, long pants or skirt/dress made of tightly woven fabric.
    • Wear a wide-brimmed hat that protects your face, neck and ears.
    • Use sunglasses that block both ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays, to protect your eyes. For winter sports, be sure to protect your eyes with goggles.
    • Smooth on some sunscreen to give you added protection from the sun, especially when you can't find shade or cover up with clothing. Your sunscreen should have a minimum Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 and should be labelled "broad-spectrum". Apply enough to leave your skin white - it will soak in. Use lipstick or SPF 30 lip balm to protect your lips. Reapply sunscreen throughout the day, especially if you are spending time on or in water, or if you are sweating from physical activity.

    Childhood sun exposure makes an important contribution to the lifetime risk of skin cancer. That’s because sun damage builds up over time.

    This means that infants from birth to 12 months must be protected from too much sun and, especially, from sunburns.

    Sunscreen can irritate an infant’s eyes, so use sunscreen only on small areas of skin away from the eyes. Use clothing, hats, and shade to protect most of your child’s skin.

    The sun is a major source of Vitamin D, which is needed for good health and helps build healthy bones and teeth. Health Canada recommends that all breastfed infants should receive a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU every day from birth until 12 months.

    Minimize outdoor activity between 11 am and 3 pm in summer.

    Dress your infant in loose-fitting clothes that cover the skin.

    Cover your infant’s head in a hat that conceals the neck and ears.

    Seek or create shade. You can get a sunburn even on a cloudy day.

    If you must use sunscreen, choose one with a high SPF (30 to 60 SPF).

    Give breastfed infants a Vitamin D supplement every day.

    If you work outdoors, you have a higher risk for developing skin cancer because you are regularly exposed to the sun for long periods of time. 

    Often this exposure happens during those times in the day when the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which will harm the skin, is at its strongest — between 12 noon and 2 pm.

    The good news is that skin cancer is largely preventable. Here are ways you can protect yourself:

    • Try to limit the amount of time you work outdoors in the direct sun from 11 am to 3 pm
    • Seek shade from buildings, tree canopies, etc., especially during lunch and coffee breaks
    • Wear a wide-brimmed hat (more than 8 cm or 3 inches)
    • Attach a back flap to a construction helmet to cover the back of the neck and a visor for the front of the face
    • Wear loose, comfortable clothing that covers as much of the body as possible. Fabrics that do not let light through work best
    • Apply an SPF 30 or higher broad spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB) sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin before you go outside. Reapply at midday or more often if you are perspiring heavily
    • Apply a broad spectrum SPF 30 lip balm

    For more information, contact the Canadian Dermatology Association.


    The UV Index, issued daily by Environment Canada, is a simple measure of the intensity of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

    How It Works, Why It’s Important

    The index is a useful tool to alert you to the need for sun protection. The higher the index, the more careful you have to be when outside in the sun.

    The index is featured in the media (print, TV, radio, and Internet) when it is expected to reach 3 or higher, which is when sun protective actions are needed.

    For Environment Canada's explanation of the UV index and how to protect yourself for each range of values on the index, please visit their Sun Protection page.

    In BC, you can find the daily index here.


    There is strong evidence of the harms of exposure to UV radiation from the sun and other sources, including skin cancer, melanoma and some cataracts.

    There is strong evidence of the benefits of adequate vitamin D status on musculoskeletal health and prevention of fractures in the elderly.

    Vitamin D is obtained through skin exposure to UVB radiation, and also through diet (particularly fortified foods) and supplementation. To minimize the health risks associated with UVB radiation exposure while maximizing the potential benefits of optimum Vitamin D status, supplementation and small amounts of sun exposure - not sunbathing and not tanning salons - are the preferred methods of obtaining vitamin D.

    Groups at risk of not obtaining adequate amounts of vitamin D include:

    • the elderly;
    • exclusively breast-fed babies;
    • individuals with dark skin pigmentation;
    • individuals with limited skin exposure to the sun (e.g. housebound, or those who wear clothing covering most of the skin for cultural/ religious reasons); and
    • those who during the winter are living above 37 latitude (Canada and Northern U.S.).

    If you are concerned about adequate vitamin D levels, discuss supplementation with your health care practitioner. For breast-fed babies, vitamin D drops are available on their own (only in Canada), or as part of a multi-vitamin drop, and are recommended as a supplementation source by health authorities both in Canada and the USA. For adults, current federal recommendations are 600 IU/day for age 9 to 70 and 800 IU for those over 70. The most appropriate supplementation level is likely to be above this but below the safe upper level of 4000 IU/day for adults. We think that the available evidence supports an adult dose of 1000 IU/day. More research is needed to determine the optimal amount of vitamin D supplementation required to prevent health problems.

    In Canada, for more information about supplementation for breast fed babies you can go to Health Canada’s website.

    Reference: North American Conference on UV, Vitamin D, and Health, Toronto, March 3, 2006.


    The decision to get a tan is yours alone to make. But you should know that ultraviolet light damages your skin, causing wrinkles, sagging, age spots, and discoloration.

    Make sure you have all the facts before you climb into a tanning bed.

    • Ultraviolet (UV) light from tanning beds and from the sun can cause skin cancer, including melanoma - a potentially deadly cancer. Because lifetime exposure to UV increases one’s risk of melanoma, the World Health Organization recommends that no one under the age of 18 uses a tanning bed
    • Avoid sunlamps and tanning salons. All tanning beds use UV light. No tanning bed or sunlamp can give you a safe tan
    • There is no scientific evidence that tanning beds or sunlamps will reduce your risk of cancer or other disease. Nor will a tan protect you from sunburns
    • UV light from tanning beds and from the sun damages the skin and causes premature aging of the skin.

    Alternatives to Tanning Beds

    Your skin looks great the way it is, but if you want a ‘bronzed look’ then sunless (UV free) tanning is the only safe way to do it. You can get a sunless tan at home or in a salon by using a cream, lotion, spray, or gel. Sunless tanning products darken your skin without exposing you to either the sun or a tanning bed. A tan does not protect you from the sun, so always be sun safe.

    Summer makeup, such as bronzers and blushes, can also give you a tanned look.

    Melanoma is a highly dangerous form of skin cancer, which is always malignant. When found at an early stage, melanoma has one of the highest cure rates of all cancers, at more than 90 percent.

    If left untreated, melanoma starts to invade beyond the skin. When it reaches the blood stream or the lymphatic system, it has a chance to spread to other parts of the body and often causes death.

    Melanoma commonly appears on the back and legs, but it can appear anywhere. These images show some of the identifying characteristics of melanoma. Check your moles and pigmented spots for these signs, which may indicate melanoma. If you notice these features, or if you observe changes in a specific spot, see a dermatologist.

    The ABCDs of Melanoma

    Asymmetry means the shape is not the same on both sides.

    The border of a visible edge of a malignant melanoma is irregular, ragged, and indistinct.

    The colour of a malignant melanoma may range from brown to black, and have areas of red, grey, or white.


    An increase in diameter or width is common in melanoma, often measuring more than 6mm in diameter.

    For more information visit the website of the Canadian Dermatology Association at or BC Cancer's Melanoma pages.

    Photographs © Copyright the Canadian Dermatology Association.


    During which months do I need to take sun safety precautions?

    The sun’s radiation is strongest during the summer months. However, you should protect yourself from early spring right through to the fall. People often get sunburns in late April and May; because the weather is cool, they don’t think the sun is strong enough to burn.

    How does the sun cause skin cancer?

    The sun’s rays go into the skin and harm the DNA within the cells of the skin. The body naturally works to repair the damage, but it may not be able to fix everything. This can result in uncontrolled cell growth, leading to the development of skin cancer. Sunburns and suntans result from sun exposure and both are signs of skin damage. Repeated sun exposure over the years may result in changes such as wrinkles, mottling of skin colour, and skin cancer. Because these changes happen over time, it is important to take action now to prevent problems in the future.

    Why do I need to wear a hat in the sun?

    Two of the three most common skin cancers appear on the face, head, and neck. Almost all of these tumours are caused by sun exposure over a long period of time. Protect these areas, including the ears, by wearing a broad-brimmed (more than 8 cm or 3 inches) or legionnaire-style hat with a back flap.

    Sun Myths

    I don’t need to protect myself from the sun on a cloudy day in spring or summer.

    MYTH. Yes, you need sun protection because up to 90% of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation passes through light cloud cover.

    A tan protects my skin from the sun.

    MYTH. A tan does not really provide much protection from the sun and is only equal to a sun protection factor (SPF or protection against sunburn) of between 2 and 4.


    To help you reach children with the sun-safe message the fun way, we've made these colouring posters for you to print and use.

    While they are colouring them in, you can remind them again to SLIP (into comfortable, lightweight clothing), SLAP (on a hat), and SLOP (on some sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater).

    Children's entertainer Norman Foote produced these sing-along songs reminding kids to stay safe in the sunshine. You can find more of his work at


    Stereo MP3 (Approx 2-3 MB each)

    To Save: Windows - Right-click, Save Target As • Mac - Command-Save

    Mono WAV (Approx 3-4 MB each)

    To Save: Right-click for options

    SOURCE: Sun Safety ( )
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