Enjoy spending time outdoors and avoid sunburns

During the summer months we spend more and more time outdoors. Our time in the sun should be fun, safe and pain free. According to Dr. Brenda Moroz, dermatologist at The Montreal Children’s Hospital, in order to avoid sunburns, it is important to create a barrier that protects the skin against the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.

Just what is sunburn?

“Red skin, blisters, burning--the tell-tale signs of sunburn all appear on the top layer of skin. But by the time we see all this, usually about three hours after exposure, the sun’s dangerous UVA and  UVB rays have already caused inflammation of the skin’s middle layer, 2-3 mm under the surface, where blood vessels have dilated, and tissue membranes have swollen and blistered” explains Dr. Moroz.

UVA and UVB rays reflect off any surface – grass, concrete, sand, water, and even extend under parasols! Shade is only partially effective as a protection. Clouds are not protective either as these rays penetrate them. “To be safe, reapply sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours, even on cloudy days, wear hats and tightly woven clothing”, suggests Dr. Moroz.

Is sunscreen an effective barrier?

Most people think sunscreen works immediately. In fact, it should be applied 30 minutes before heading outdoors to give it a chance to form a protective barrier. If your skin gets wet or sweaty, reapply sunscreen often, every 20 or 30 minutes: remember, there is no truly waterproof sunscreen!

The secret of sunscreens is not in the numbers alone Dr. Moroz explains “Although higher SPF numbers seem to promise longer protection this is not necessarily the case. The best products are those with an SPF of at least 15 containing Mexoryl and Parsol, as well as Titanium Dioxide (4%), which is the ingredient that creates the most effective barrier.”

Is sunburn dangerous?

Dr. Moroz: “According to medical literature, every sunburn increases your risk factor for melanoma four times.”

Other articles on this topic

Too much time under the sun? Not enough sunblock? Sunburns can be dangerous. Here's how to avoid them...and treat them.

Useful links

Ultraviolet Radiation from the Sun
What you should know about UV rays.

Protecting Your Family
A parents guide to sun protection

Babies, Children and Sun Safety
Protect young children's delicate skin. If sun is dangerous for your skin, imagine theirs.

Sun Fiction and Fact
Is it true that you don't burn if you're in the water? Is tanning healthy? What is a fact and what is fiction.

Safe Summer Fun Quiz
Take Health Canada's quiz on summer safety.