Cancer Care Ontario has released new sun safety recommendations, during National Sun Awareness Week, urging Ontarians to slather on the sun screen, wear shade-providing hats and not set out deliberately to get a sun tan.

Maria Chu, senior policy specialist with Cancer Care Ontario, calls the guidelines an update on existing recommendations that come on the heels of research done between 1996 and 2006. The development of the update came on the heels of surveys that found people weren’t improving sun protection despite spending much more time outdoors from 1996 to 2006.

Health Canada recommends people wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 15, but the new CCO guideline calls for a minimum SPF of 30. Many people don’t apply sunscreen properly or don’t wear enough, so CCO is recommending the higher SPF. In 2014, there were 39,000 cases of skin cancer. For melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer, there were 16.2 cases per 100,000 people in 2002 and 19.9 per 100,000 in 2012.

The message is to minimize harmful exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Many people don’t realize UV rays from the sun can still damage skin when it is cloudy. CCO is recommending people take extra precautions to protect themselves from 11 am to 3 pm, when UV rays can be three times higher than the rest of the day.

The assistant director of health policy with the Canadian Cancer Society, Robert Nuttall, says consistent sun safety recommendations are critical to improving sun safety behaviour. “Skin cancer, including melanoma, is one of the most preventable types of cancer,” said Nuttall.

As well as applying sun screen, people are urged to seek or make shade in the sun, wear clothes and a hat with a brim, and not seek to tan on tanning beds or in the sun. Avoid sunburn. It is also crucial to protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses or prescription eyeglasses with UV-protective lenses and, again, a hat with a wide brim.

There are some studies that say wearing sunscreen can increase the risk of skin cancer, but Chu isn’t buying it. She has compared data from those studies to information about sunscreen ingredients providing by the World Health Organization. Some of the negative studies are based on animal studies and Chu said she has found citations that were “completely false.”

Skin cancer facts
– The single most important risk factor for melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer is exposure to UV radiation, also known to cause harm to the eyes.
– Melanoma is the most dangerous of the three types of skin cancer and incidence is on the rise.
– Studies have shown that frequent sunburns – even if they occurred years ago when you were a child or teenager – increase the risk of melanoma.