After a year of being more indoors than out, we're all eager to enjoy some sunshine this summer. But before you hit the beach, check out our answers to your most burning questions about sun care and safety.
You’ve probably heard it before, and we’re here to tell you again: You really do need to wear sunblock— every single day. But it can be confusing to figure out whether chemical or mineral formulas are best, how to apply sunblock when you’re wearing makeup and what to do now that your face is half covered with a mask most of the time. We get it. So we asked two top dermatologists for their advice on being sun safe this summer.
How much sunblock do I need to apply?
“Match the use of sunblock to your planned activities for the day,” says Dr. Monica Li, a Vancouver-based dermatologist and clinical instructor in the Department of Dermatology and Skin Science at the University of British Columbia. If you’re working mostly at your computer, and not directly in a window, but may go for a walk or run an errand, a layer of sunblock on your face and neck in the morning will do the trick, she says.
For a day at the beach, Health Canada says you’ll need roughly 35 ml (or 7 teaspoons) of sunblock to cover up. That’s about 1 teaspoon, or nickel-sized amount, for each arm, each leg, the front of your torso, back of your torso and another teaspoon for your face and neck. “If you’re using a spray formulation, sunblock should be applied until an even sheen is seen on the skin,” says Dr. Li. You’ll also need to re-apply every two hours and after sweating, swimming and toweling off.
“And don’t forget that sunblock is just one component of a sun protection strategy,” says Dr. Li. Think wide-brimmed hat, full-coverage sunglasses, covering up, seeking shade and extra diligence during peak hours, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
What's the right level of sunblock to use?
The Canadian Dermatology Association recommends that everyone, regardless of skin tone, wear a minimum of SPF 30 daily, no matter what’s on your agenda. Whether you’re sitting in a window with your laptop for a Zoom meeting, walking your dog or lounging on the cottage dock, your skin is vulnerable to UV damage, which can exacerbate dark spots, acne scars and hyperpigmentation, and increase your risk of skin cancer.
What I cover up, do I really need UPF-rated clothing, or will a regular T-shirt do the job?
Sun-shielding shirts and bottoms are particularly important for kids, or people taking medications that increase photosensitivity. They’re also a good idea for a prolonged period spent outside, like an afternoon hike, for example. Ultraviolet protection factor (or UPF) ratings coincide closely with SPF values for sunblock, so opt for garments with UPF 30 and higher for maximum protection. That said, a regular T-shirt will also provide some protection, but how much depends on the cut, weave and even the colour of the fabric.
“Fabrics really differ in their ability to protect skin from solar radiation,” says Dr. Émilie Bourgeault, a Quebec City-based dermatologist and cofounder of DermaGo, a virtual dermatology clinic. For example, polyester is better than cotton, which is better than linen, she says. Darker colours are also more protective than lighter colours. But even a fitted black tee won’t protect fully if you’re wearing it in the pool, since untreated fabrics let more light through when they’re wet. For outdoor water sports, you really do need a UPF-rated board shirt.
What's the difference between mineral and chemical sunblock?
In short, chemical sunblocks work by absorbing UV radiation, while mineral sunblocks reflect UV rays. And both will do the job, as long as they’re applied properly, says Dr. Li. People with certain skin conditions might have more success with a mineral sunblock, though. “Those with sensitive skin may find mineral sunblocks—containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as UV filters—more tolerable,” she says. There is also emerging scientific evidence suggesting that those with pigmentary conditions, like melasma, may benefit more from mineral sunblocks, too, says Dr. Li.
Do I need to apply SPF under my face mask?
You may be thinking that since you’re masked up most of the day, with the lower half of your face concealed under several layers of fabric, you can skimp on SPF applications. But you’d be wrong. According to Dr. Bourgeault, a cloth face mask offers some UV protection, but not enough to forgo sunscreen. Even a triple-layer mask made of a tightly-woven fabric like polyester won’t really do the job. The fabric itself only blocks a minimal amount of sunlight, and there can be gaps around the edges of a mask, so it will become even less effective if it gets damp with sweat or moisture. Plus, it doesn’t cover your entire face. “It’s safer—and easier— to apply sunblock over the whole face every day as part of your regular morning skin care routine,” says Dr. Bourgeault.
Does my makeup with SPF provide enough coverage?
Even if your favourite powder or foundation contains SPF, you’re probably not applying it in a layer that’s thick and even enough to shield your complexion from UV damage. It’s better to think of the SPF in your makeup as a bonus and apply sunblock as the first step in your beauty routine, after cleansing and moisturizing. A BB cream or moisturizer with a minimum of SPF 30 will do the trick, if you’re mindful about applying it liberally to your entire face and neck. And don’t forget to add a layer to your ears and a balm with SPF 30 or higher to your lips, too.
How do I tell if a tube of sunblock is expired?
All sunblocks approved by Health Canada have to show an expiry date, since formulations become unstable over time and less effective at preventing sun damage. It’s important to heed the best-before date on the tube. And once opened, store your sunblock in a cool dry place (not a beach bag in your car, for example) to preserve the active ingredients.
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