Its Summer! Know the Ins & Outs of Sun Safety

It’s finally summer – the time of year we’ve all (well, 99% of us) have been waiting for. There’s nothing like getting outside for a bike ride, a game of Frisbee on the beach, gardening or just reading a great book in a hammock – especially when you feel that glorious warmth from the sun shining upon you! Make sure you make the most of it… SAFELY! We’re all aware that there are risks to excessive UV exposure (premature aging, sun spots, cancer), but that doesn’t mean we should all hide indoors all day. Knowing key facts about the sun and having some tools under you belt can help keep you safe all season long!

First of all – what do the terms UV, UVA and UVB really mean? UV stands for Ultraviolet, and it’s the light that comes from the sun in two main wavelengths: UVA and UVB. UVA and UVB are similar but different, and their differences are important to understand.

  • Similarities:

  • UVA and UVB both cause tanning and burning.

  • Both are present even even on overcast days. UV Rays easily penetrate the clouds so don't count them to protect you from a burn!

  • Differences:

  • UVA:

  • Causes tanning and burning more quickly than UVB does

  • Rays penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB rays do. They go right into the thickest layer of the skin causing more damage which ultimately leads to signs of premature ageing of the skin, wrinkles and sun spots

  • Rays are present all day long (not just between the “peak hours” of 10am – 2pm) AND all year long (not just spring – fall, they’re there in the chilly winter too!).

  • UVB:

  • Are the “burning rays”, meaning they are the primary cause of sunburns, as opposed to UVA rays

  • Rays are strongest during those “peak hours” – between 10am – 2pm, and are less intense in the morning and evening hours.

  • On a positive note, UVB rays are the ones that help with the production of Vitamin D (produced in the skin and discussed in greater detail below).

Keeping yourself safe: Sunscreen and Sun block

  • There are many options available for protecting yourself from the sun, but this is where it can get tricky too.

  • Chemicals: Many of the sunscreen products on the shelves contain chemicals and toxins that do help prevent burning, however have also been found to absorb into the skin causing damage both to your skin and to your overall health. By checking out the labels on your products you can avoid the worst offenders, which include: Oxybenzone, Retinyl Palmitate, allergy-creating PABA, Benzophenone-3, Homosalate, Octyl-methoxycinnamate (OMC) and 4-Methyl-benzylidene camphor (4- MBC), among many others.

  • Tip 1: Check out Environmental Working Group guide (EWG) at: for guides to many different products!

  • Get Enough: Another issue with regular sunscreens is that many of them don’t really provide proper protection. UVB rays are deflected (so you wont get a burn), but UVA gets in (so you will develop the wrinkles & sun spots)!

  • Tip 2: Make sure your choice has both UVB and UVA protection!

  • Better options include products that are free of contaminants.

  • Chemical-free sunscreens contain natural active ingredients that include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These products don’t absorb into skin, rather they form a physical barrier right on the surface of your skin. They protect by reflecting and scattering away the suns rays (both UVA and UVB). Another benefit, since they don’t absorb, they don’t cause irritation to you skin or clog your pores, as many regular sunscreens do.

  • Tip 3: Sun blocks containing zinc &/or titanium oxide can be found in most pharmacies and the health-product isles of your favorite supermarket!

  • Another option is to opt for the long sleeved shirt & pants as well as a wide-brimmed hat during those peak hours. You can generally count on an SPF value of about 15 from most clothing.

  • Tip 4: Don’t forget your eyes: sunglasses with UVA & B filters will help keep your peepers protected from the glare and rays!

  • Use enough:

  • And unfortunately, “enough” is a lot more than most people are typically used to using. Full body coverage for an average adult is about a full palmful! That breaks down into about:

  • 1 teaspoon for your chest & stomach

  • 1 teaspoon for your whole back

  • 1 teaspoon for each arm and each leg

  • 1 teaspoon for your neck and ears

  • (and a bit more on top if you’re bald)

  • Apply 15-20 minutes prior to going outside and reapply every 2-3 hours, more often if you’re swimming or sweating a lot.

More you can do to improve your sun health include:

  • Protect yourself from the inside.

  • Consuming a variety of antioxidant-rich foods daily is not only good for keeping your body overall healthy, but it provides the resources your cells need to help to reverse any damage caused by the UV radiation.

  • Tip 5: Antioxidant rich foods are some of the most delicious, including colourful fruit & vegetables (berries in particular!), nuts, raw cocoa and green tea! **Look to my next blog for a discussion about the power of antioxidants!**

  • Boost up those dietary omega 3 and 6 oils. These will help keep your skin supple and healthy while the suns rays beat down upon it.

  • Tip 6: A few of the Omega 3 foods include fatty fish, flax seed and oil, walnuts and eggs, while some Omega 6 foods include vegetable oils, avocado, nuts & seeds and evening primrose oil.

  • Keep water intake up! Maintaining hydration in your cells another component to keeping your skin smooth and intact. 6-8 glasses at a minimum, and more if you’re sweating &/or out in the heat for long periods.

  • Tip 7: Caffeine and sugary drinks dehydrate you, so avoid them as much as possible.

  • Say no to processed. Opt to forego the deep fried, packaged and processed “junk foods”. These products are laden with oxidized fats, chemicals and salt, which besides filling you up with empty calories rather than healthy antioxidant-rich ones, give your body more to deal with than just the damage from the sun.

A final point to discuss:

  • One can hardly talk about the sun without mentioning the phenomenal Vitamin D. This wonderful vitamin helps improve bone density, combat some cancers, keep your immune system strong, and support a healthy heart, among many other things.

  • Amazingly, our bodies make this vitamin right there in the skin – just with exposure to the sun in the right time of year! One less pill to take during the summer months (in Canada). Unfortunately, most sunscreens almost completely block this process, thus depriving you of the benefit.

  • To avoid missing out, allow your skin a bit of “unprotected” time every day (15 minutes is plenty!). This would ideally be earlier in the morning or early evening when the suns rays are not the strongest.

  • Tip 8: your body only produces a maximum amount of Vitamin D with each exposure, so staying out longer doesn’t mean more absorption. The faintest pink tinge means enough – apply the sunscreen or you’re just doing harm from this point forward.

Now that you know the ins & outs, grab your hat and sun block,

Pack a picnic full of healthy summery foods,

Hit the beach and enjoy the summer safely!

I certainly plan to!

Dr Katarine Holewa, ND

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