Sun Protection

Children and adolescents should avoid the sun as much as possible.

Anne Massicotte, BPharm, MSc,
Drug information pharmacist, Ottawa Hospital, Civic Campus

The sun emits two kinds of ultraviolet (UV) radiation: UVA and UVB. Brief (‘acute’) exposure to UV radiation without adequate protection can lead to sunburn. Tanning is also a sign of skin damage and should not be encouraged. Long-term (‘chronic’) exposure to the sun increases the risk of skin cancer, eye damage and premature aging of the skin indicated by deep wrinkles and irregular pigmentation (‘photoaging’).

The best way to avoid the negative effects of UV radiation is to limit sun exposure:

  • avoid tanning booths
  • avoid sun exposure between 11am and 4pm
  • wear sunglasses
  • wear a broad brimmed hat and protective clothing (made of tightly woven and preferably dark fabrics)
  • use sunscreens on a regular basis.

Keep in mind that clouds, fog and haze do not adequately block UV rays and that some surfaces (aluminum, sand, water, snow and glossy magazines) reflect UV light.

Your pharmacist can assist you in selecting an adequate sunscreen product. A waterproof preparation that contains a combination of agents which absorb both UVA and UVB is recommended. Choose a product with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 (preferably 30). Fragrance-free products are preferred as they are less likely to sensitize the skin. Some formulations may contain up to 70% alcohol and are highly flammable; smokers and persons exposed to open flames (e.g., an outdoor barbecue) should avoid using these products.

Sunscreens should be used consistently:

  • apply before any other skin products such as cosmetics
  • apply generously 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure to ensure binding to the skin
  • reapply every two hours
  • reapply after swimming or exercising to ensure that the product has not been washed or rubbed off.

No sunscreen can absorb all the sun’s rays and should not be used to gain extra sun exposure time.

Children and adolescents should avoid the sun as much as possible; with excessive UV exposure, there is a strong risk for developing skin cancer in this age group. In particular, infants less than six months old should be kept out of direct sunlight. Favour shade, hats and clothing for babies; however, when sun exposure cannot be avoided, apply sunscreens to small areas not adequately protected by clothing such as the face and back of the hands.