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Tips for protecting your skin from the sun this summer

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Written by Lindsay Smith

With June comes the promise of summer: longer days, warmer temperatures, vacations. Spending time outdoors is also the safest choice during COVID-19, which means it’s time to revisit the importance of sun safety. Dr. Kucy Pon, a dermatologist at Sunnybrook, shares some reminders about the importance of sunscreen, how to make wearing it as easy as possible and what skin changes could signal it’s time to call your doctor.

Make sunscreen part of a daily routine

It might seem as though sunscreen is unnecessary on cloudy days, or days when you think you’ll only be outside for a short time, but Dr. Pon recommends putting on sunscreen every day, no matter what.

“It’s a good habit, a good routine to get into every day,” she says, adding that weather can be unpredictable, and a day that starts cloudy and overcast could become bright and sunny later on. “You should prepare for the day, not just for that instance when you’re out.”

And while it might seem that sunscreen only needs to be a part of a summer routine, Dr. Pon says people should continue to wear sunscreen in the winter months as well.

“UV rays can bounce off the snow and ice and get reflected, so it’s important to use sunscreen all year round, and every day.”


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Skin cancer: warning signs and symptoms

The COVID-19 pandemic means a lot of our activities and socializing will be outside this summer. While we’re enjoying the warm weather and sunshine, it’s important to remember sun safety, and that includes being aware of any skin changes that could indicate skin cancer.

Melanoma

Pay attention to moles that are asymmetrical, have a diameter of 6mm (larger than a pencil eraser), have an uneven border, have changed colour or have changed rapidly.

Basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma

Typically found on face, upper chest, neck; areas with high sun exposure

Basal cell carcinoma is often a sore that will bleed, scab and bleed again without healing, and it grows slowly over time.

Squamous cell carcinoma is often a crusty sore that won’t heal and can also grow slowly over time.

Early detection is very important for skin cancer, so if you have any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact your family doctor, who can refer you to a dermatologist if necessary.


Selecting a sunscreen

“The best sunscreen is the one that you like and that you’re going to use,” says Dr. Pon. She says it should be a minimum of SPF 30, but other than that, whether it’s a cream, spray or even tinted sunscreen doesn’t matter as long as you’ll wear it daily.

Dr. Pon does say not to rely on SPF in moisturizers or makeup as the only sunscreen you wear, though.

“Typically, these have a lower SPF than an SPF 30,” she says. “Also, more than half a teaspoon is recommended for the face and neck, and people don’t put that much makeup on their face.”

If you’re going to be outside for the day, plan to reapply sunscreen every two to three hours, and more frequently if you’re sweating or swimming. You should be applying more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm, and more than a teaspoon to the chest, torso, back and each leg.

Know your skin

In addition to wearing sunscreen daily, it’s important for people to check their skin for any changes that could indicate sun damage. For those who have a lot of moles, freckles or spots, Dr. Pon says an easy way to track any changes is to take pictures of the spots and use them for reference.

“We do recommend people check their moles once a month,” says Dr. Pon. “I always recommend to my patients the first day of the month or the last day of the month, so it becomes routine.”

About the author

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Lindsay Smith