More than just sunscreen: How to protect yourself from the sun this summer

With school almost out and warm weather beckoning, soaking in the sun will be high on most people’s list of summer activities, but is sunscreen enough protection?

Skin cancer rates have been rising in Canada, according to a new study led by McGill University, with those living near water and coastal areas seeing the highest incidents of the potentially deadly disease. spoke with one of the co-authors of the study, Dr. Ivan Litvinov, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at McGill University, who shared some best practices on how to get your sun and still protect your skin.


Apply copious amounts of sunscreen to all exposed skin, Litvinov says, and reapply every two to three hours. Some common places that people miss include the ears, scalp, chest, lips and eyelids, and top of the feet.

Just because the SPF is high does not mean it’s better either.

“To demystify it, before we had SPF 60, SPF 100, whatever the number is,” Litvinov said.

“The truth is the SPF is an S shaped curve, so you pretty much flattening out on the other end of the curve by the time you get 50 and higher. So protection of SPF 60, SPF 100, doesn’t give you much more than SPF 50.”

He recommends a broad spectrum SPF 50+ sunscreen and says the best one is the one you will use and apply every two to three hours to sun-exposed skin.

But he notes that sunscreen is in fact the least effective method of sun protection.


Litvinov recommends wearing some protective clothing like sportswear worn by cyclists and other athletes that have a UPF rating of 50 and higher.

He also suggests rash guards, which can cover up all the way down to the wrists and ankles. They are close-fitting clothing for swimming and surfing that can be worn over swimwear that provide extra protection and help prevent sunburn.

Regular clothing also works as long as they are opaque, he says. He suggests holding it up against the light to see if you can see through it.

“We do want to send a message, let’s say someone is wearing a white T-shirt and then that T-shirt becomes wet due to sweat or water or whatever, well that T-shirt then is not really protecting you from the sun,” he explained.

Sun exposure is an issue if someone has thinning hair, for example, he says. To protect your head, wear a white hat with a brim.

“There is absolutely nothing healthy about a tan. A tan is just signs of skin being damaged by the sun,” Litvinov said.

“We’re encouraging all Canadians to not sit at home, to enjoy the outdoors, to be as active as possible, but don’t get tanned.”

To learn more, he directed Canadians to, a project sponsored by McGill University, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and others aimed at increasing melanoma awareness and providing information on safe practices.

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