Keeping it 100- the facts & myths of sunscreen


  With the summers heat FINALLY touching down in Canada, here is (almost) everything you need to know about enjoying the great outdoors while ensuring adequate skin protection. Over the past couple decades, many people have been dedicated to achieving the best summer/vacation tan. For some, this comes naturally via high melanin in someones skin (thank you genetics!) but for others, negligence and forgetting the big picture plays a huge role. I’ll admit, there are times when I would intentionally not apply sunscreen to add a bit of colour to my complexion, but it wasn’t until the other week where I noticed a dark spot on my thigh that it all clicked for me. I hope this blog post will serve to some of you as an eye opener, as it is much better to be informed and educated before the fact of (heaven forbid) something terrible happening. As per the Canadian Cancer society, melanoma rates are highest from ages 15-29 and second highest from 30-49. Now is the time for most people reading this to take precaution and stay informed, so here we go:

What is sun screen?

  Most sunscreens found in the pharmacy are a mix of ingredients that help prevent the sun’s UVA and UVB rays from reaching the skin. UVB rays are responsible for causing sunburn, while UVA rays play a major role in wrinkling, leathering, sagging, and other sun-induced aging factors. UV rays exacerbate the carcinogenic factors of the sun by causing mutations at a cellular level, potentially leading to benign tumours, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

SPF $#%@*!?!

  SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The higher the SPF, the longer your skin is protected from the sun. If your skin generally takes 20 minutes to show erythema (redness or a burn) with sun exposure, the SPF factor will multiply that time by its factor (ie. 20 minutes x 5 for SPF 5= 100 minutes of coverage). SPF can also be viewed in terms of percentage. SPF 15 filters approximately 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 filters 97% of UVB rays. While people usually judge their amount of sun exposure by the redness of their skin (UVB), plenty of damage may be caused by UVA rays without any signs or symptoms. MYTH: wearing SPF 5 does not mean you will achieve a better tan than someone wearing SPF 15- various factors determine skin colour and all the SPF means is you may burn quicker.

How to calculate the SPF that’s right for you?
Fair skin- can stay in the sun 10 minutes before burning

Olive skin- can stay in the sun 15 minutes before burning
Dark skin- can stay in the sun 20 minutes before burning

Here’s a list of natural sun screens that were voted from last year (if you’re boycotting drug store sunscreen in hopes to avoid another Banana Boat scandal):

Throwback to when mom & dad lathered pasty white sunscreen sunscreen all over your baby bod- now the question is how much sun screen is sufficient?


  The recommended amount of sunscreen to be applied is 1 oz (approximately a shot full). Most people use a fraction of this amount, meaning their coverage is even less than what I stated above. It is recommended to apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, however this is where I’d like to propose an additional concept:

Vitamin D- dundundundunnnnnnn!!!

  There is a theory that if someone wears sunscreen, they are preventing their body from absorbing the vitamin D that is synthesized through sun exposure. Although vitamin D is available in foods such as salmon, eggs, enriched milk and orange juice, people generally feel healthier and happier during the summer months. The first thing that comes to MY mind is the idea of summer time happiness vs. summertime sadness (thank you Lana Del Rey) aka Seasonal Affective Disorder, where experts believe it may be caused by a lack of sunlight. NERDY SIDE NOTE: Vitamin D activates genes that release dopamine and serotonin in the brain. When these neurotransmitters are out of balance, feelings of depression, being upset, and other mental health problems arise.

Is there a connection here? That’s for you to decide!

  As I stated before, people generally have a threshold for how long they’re able to stay in the sun before experiencing negative side effects via UVA and UVB rays. By allowing for your skin to experience sun exposure for a short period of time (less than your burning threshold), this will allow vitamin D synthesis to occur while avoiding a burn. With that being said, it is important to be diligent with timing and apply sunscreen afterwards if you plan on staying outside. This is a personal hypothesis so I encourage you to look into this idea further if interested! Vitamin D has a positive correlation to prevention in osteoporosis, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, and low-risk prostate cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society is currently recommending 1,000 IUs (international units)/day, however people commonly ingest more through diet and supplementation- recorded as high as 10,000 IUs.

If you’re completely freaked out, here’s when an abnormal freckle/mole warrants a doctors visit:

  You can never be too careful with this stuff! Not that I’m a hypochondriac by any means, but it’s important to recognize how quick these skin conditions can progress and how catching it early can be your saving grace (figuratively & literally). Practitioners generally tend to follow the ‘ABCDE’ rule when assessing a skin lesion. The acronym stands for:

A: Asymmetry (the mole/freckle is not round and symmetrical in shape)

B: Borders (the border is irregular and not clearly defined)

C: Colour (Colour is inconsistent with other moles/freckles, may be black, red, different colours throughout)

D: Diameter (greater than 6mm)

E: Evolution (the lesion has changed shape or size)

  If any of these factors seem abnormal in your situation, I’d advise you to see your GP just to be sure. I’ve touched on quite a few different ideas here, so please post below if I’ve left anything unclear, controversial, or if you have a personal story/idea to share!