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Three ways to protect yourself from skin cancer this summer

Skin cancer usually appears in adulthood, but can be caused by excessive sun exposure and sunburns in childhood
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As schools let out for summer we'll fill our days with swimming, hiking, camping, family reunions, sunburns, heatstroke, and skin damage. Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation can lead to burns of the skin and eyes leading to premature aging, cataracts, and cancer.

You can protect yourself from the harmful effects of heat and ultraviolet radiation - including skin cancer. Health Canada has tips on being proactive this summer.


1. Choose the right sunscreen

• Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

• Look for "water resistant" or “sport” on the sunscreen label. “Water resistant” or “sport” sunscreens have been formulated to stay on better if you are in the water or sweating. These sunscreen products still need to be reapplied after you get out of the water or after sweating heavily.

• Look for lip balms with SPF.


2. Proper use of sunscreen

• Sunscreen should be applied at least 15 minutes before going outside and at least every 2 hours while you are outside. Apply it generously to any areas that are not covered by clothing, a hat, or sunglasses. Don't forget your ears, the backs of your hands, and your scalp, if you have very short hair or are bald.

• Use sunscreen when UV index is 3 or higher (usually April to September).

• To get the full benefit from your sunscreen, it is important to use the recommended amount. For example, an adult should use about 7 teaspoons (35mL) of sunscreen to cover all areas of exposed skin (1 teaspoon for each arm, 1 teaspoon for each leg, 1 teaspoon for your front, 1 teaspoon for your back, and 1 teaspoon for your face and neck).

• Sunscreen and insect repellents can be used safely together. Apply the sunscreen first, wait 20 minutes, then the insect repellent.


3. Practice moderation

• The sun's UV rays are strongest between 11 am and 3 pm - be mindful of your time outdoors during these hours.

• Wear a hat, sunglasses, protective clothing

• Find shade 

• Protect yourself and your family even on cloudy days and in the winter, since snow is also a strong reflector of UV rays

• Keep babies out of the sun and heat as much as possible. They are much more sensitive to the sun than adults. If you are outside, keep your baby in the shade whenever possible and have them wear wide-brimmed sun hats, and light, loose-fitting clothing that covers their skin. Ask your health professional about using sunscreens on babies who are under six months old.

Sunburn Treatment

• Cool shower or cold compress

• Aloe gel

• Drink fluids

• ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain


Skin Cancer in Waterloo Region 

According to A Population Health Status Report 2014 Melanoma was the sixth leading cancer diagnosed in Waterloo Region from 1986 to 2009. Incidence rates in both Waterloo Region and Ontario showed a steady increase during this period, with rates in Waterloo Region slightly higher than those in Ontario. Melanoma is most frequently found on men’s backs and on women’s backs and legs. It is the least common, but most serious, type of skin cancer. The mortality rate remained below 4.0 deaths per 100,000 people, with rates consistently higher among males than females. Skin cancer usually appears in adulthood, but can be caused by excessive sun exposure and sunburns in childhood. You can help prevent skin cancer by protecting your skin and your children's skin from the harmful rays of the sun.

Waterloo Region Public Health and Emergency Services General Inquiries: 519-575-4400


Natasha McKenty

About the Author: Natasha McKenty

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