Dangerous UV rays can be a threat even during cloudy, rainy days

Lisa Fisher, Health Promotion Specialist

This summer has gotten off to a bit of a wet, chilly and stormy start. Despite this, the sun has still made an appearance and its ultraviolet (UV) rays can still pack a punch. Even when it’s cloudy, misty or foggy, 80 per cent of the sun’s UV rays can still get through. UVA rays can produce immediate tanning and premature skin aging by penetrating deep into our skin. These rays also play a part in the development of certain skin cancers. UVB rays produce sunburns and delayed skin tanning and are responsible for most skin cancers. They penetrate the outer protective layer of our skin.

There were an estimated 7,200 Canadians diagnosed with and 1,250 deaths from melanoma in 2017. Over the past 30 years, the rate of skin cancer has been increasing for Canadians. Based on the current rate, 1 in 73 women and 1 in 59 men in Canada will develop melanoma.

There are risk factors associated with skin cancer. These include ultraviolet radiation, many moles, atypical moles, birthmarks or moles present at birth or which develop shortly after, Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma (FAMMM) Syndrome, other hereditary conditions, light-colored skin, eyes and hair, personal and/or family history of skin cancer, CDKN2A gene mutation and weakened immune system.

A way to reduce your risk for skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to UV rays. Most people enjoy the sunny weather and want to be out soaking up the warmth. You can still enjoy the summer and reduce your risk of harm by following these tips:

• Use the UV Index to adequately plan for your day. The Index provides information about the strength of the sun’s UV rays. The higher the number, the stronger the rays.

• Cover up when the UV Index is at 3 or higher. This means wearing light-coloured, long-sleeved clothing and a wide-brimmed hat; ball caps will not provide adequate protection. Sunglasses should provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays

• Keep out or limit your time in the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun’s rays are at their strongest. Look for places with shade and always bring an umbrella to the beach where there may not be any natural shade. Remember that if your shadow is shorter than you, than the sun is strong.

• When the UV Index is at 3 or higher, apply sunscreen that is labelled “broad spectrum” and “water resistant” with an SPF of at least 30. Sunscreen should be applied at least 15 minutes prior to going out in the sun and reapplied at least every two hours. It must be reapplied after going in the water, towelling off or sweating.

Tanning equipment should also be avoided as there is no actual safe way to tan. There has been significant evidence linking artificial tanning and the development of skin cancer.

If skin cancer is detected and treated early, the chances of the treatment being successful are better. Make it a habit to check your skin once a month for any changes, and ensure that you are getting regular checkups with your healthcare practitioner. When looking for any abnormal area or change, make sure you are in a well-lit area and, working from top to bottom, examine each part of your body.

For additional information on sun safety, contact the Health Promotion team at local 6958 or 4WGHealthPromotion@forces.gc.ca or by visiting http://www.healthiertogether.ca/living-healthy/limit-uv-rays/

References

• Canadian Cancer Society. (2019). Finding skin cancer early. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/skin-melanoma/finding-cancer-early/?region=on

• Health Canada. (2018). Sun safety. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/sun-safety.html