Fun in the sun

Get the facts on sun damage and learn how to keep your skin healthy

If you want healthy-looking skin, you need to be savvy about the sun all year-round. Catching too many rays too often can cause premature wrinkling and skin cancer, says Dr. Lyn Guenther, professor of dermatology at the University of Western Ontario. We asked her to help us separate fact from fiction when it comes to sun care. Here’s what you need to know to protect your skin and keep that healthy glow:

Myth #1 Only pale, fair-haired people are at risk for sun damage.

Reality: Certain characteristics, such as fair skin, blonde or red hair, blue eyes and freckles or a lot of moles do increase your risk of skin cancer and premature aging as a result of too many rays. But that doesn’t mean women with dark hair or darker skin can bask in the sun without protection. Unless you never venture outside, you’re not immune to sun damage.

Myth #2 You only need to sport sun block on sunny summer days.

Reality: Up to 80 per cent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can penetrate clouds. So overcast skies are no reason to forget about sun protection. While the ultraviolet rays (UVBs) that cause sunburns are stronger in the summer, UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the skin and can also cause sunburns, are also shining strong during colder months. Whatever the season, before you go outdoors apply sun block to any part of your body that’s not covered in clothing. Don’t forget your ears, head, neck, and hands. And use a lipstick or balm with SPF 30 on your lips.

Myth #3 If you don’t get burned, your skin isn’t damaged.

Reality: You don’t need to get pink to develop premature lines and brown age splotches on your hands and face. And even if your skin doesn’t burn from a day at the beach, your body may still be sun damaged, which can suppress your immune system and increase your risk of skin cancer.

Myth #4 Tanning beds are a safe way to get that sun-kissed look.

Reality: There’s no such thing as a safe tan. Using tanning beds exposes you to concentrated ultraviolet radiation, which boosts premature aging and skin cancer risk. One Swedish study found that people 35 or younger who regularly tanned this way had a melanoma risk eight times higher than non-users. For a healthy alternative, use a bronzer or artificial tanner.

Myth #5 Lathering on sun block gives you all-day protection.

Reality: Wearing sunscreen doesn’t mean you’re safe to worship the sun for hours on end. Try to avoid exposure during peak hours (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). If you can’t stay out of the sun, wear sunglasses, loose cotton clothing and a tightly woven hat with a wide brim to protect your face, ears and neck. And don’t forget to reapply waterproof sun block after a long swim or if you’re perspiring heavily.

To keep your skin beautiful during every season, use a broad-spectrum sun block, which protects against UVA and UVB rays with an SPF ranging from 15 to 60. Be sure to apply it generously at least 15 minutes before going outside and you’ll be ready for fun in the sun.