Sun Safety

The United Nations Environment Program estimates that 2 to 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers and over 130000 malignant melanomas occur globally each year. Ramifications of overexposure to the sun include sunburns, wrinkling, premature skin aging, and skin cancer, including melanoma. Contrary to popular opinion, tanned skin can also indicate skin damage.

Sun Safety Tips

  • Limit exposure to the sun between 10 am and 4 pm, when UV radiation is at its peak
  • Apply sunscreen – with at least 30 SPF and UVA and UVB protection (sometimes referred to as “broad-spectrum”) – at least 20 minutes before exposure.
    • Do not put sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months.
    • You need a minimum of 2 tablespoons of sunscreen to cover all exposed areas of the body.
    • Be sure to apply sunscreen to the nose, lips, and ears, which are very sensitive to the sun
    • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and immediately after sweating or swimming
    • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection
    • Monitor the UV index: if the UV index is higher than 3, use sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat

Chemical v Physical Ingredients

Sunscreens may contain both chemical and physical sun blocking agents. Chemical ingredients absorb UV radiation; physical ingredients (e.g. zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) are large particulates that reflect UV radiation.

Sunscreens with physical ingredients offer better protection than those with just chemical compounds, and are recommended for fair-skinned individuals, as well as for those taking medication that can cause photosensitivity reactions: tetracyclines (doxycycline, tetracycline), fluoroquinolones (ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin, levofloxacin), levoquine, or sulfa containing drugs.

When comparing sunscreens, try to find one with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.  

Treating Sunburns

Treatments aimed at altering the course of sunburns have not been universally effective and will not shorten the duration of symptoms but may offer symptomatic relief.

  • Drink liquids and remain in inside or in the shade
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (ibuprofen/naproxen) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), moisturizing creams, aloe vera, or diphenhydramine may help relieve the pain of the burn
  • Topical antibiotics (Polysporin for burns) can be used to prevent secondary infection if blistering occurs

For more information

Up To Date

Health Canada

Environmental Protection Agency

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Sunburns

World Health Organization

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Since 1936, International Medical Services (IMS) has strategically promoted safety and travel illness prevention. We have extensive experience sending short and long term expatriates to every continent and major travel destination (including Antarctica).

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