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The sun: friend or foe?

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What a great feeling it is to feel the sun’s warm rays on your skin, especially after a rough winter! The sun contributes to your well-being and also offers a good dose of vitamin D. But unfortunately, it can also cause problems, such as sunburn and cancer.

A love-hate relationship

The sun, that beautiful star we all love for brightening our days, can also represent danger to your health. The sun is an ally when it contributes to your well-being and good mood, or when your skin benefits from its rays to produce vitamin D; in fact, people who suffer from seasonal depression during the winter months are the most outspoken about its benefits on mood and mental health. In addition, ultraviolet rays are also sometimes used to treat certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis and vitiligo. But overall, the list of the sun’s beneficial effects is rather limited.

On the other hand, the list of its harmful effects is definitely worthy of our attention. Indeed, for those who don’t take the proper precautions against them, the sun’s rays can cause or contribute to health problems, some of which are serious. For example:

  • sunburn;
  • heatstroke (insolation);
  • premature aging of skin;
  • brown spots;
  • eye disease;
  • skin cancer.

In short, the sun can be both your best friend and your worst enemy. It’s up to you to decide what type of relationship you’re looking for!

There are a lot of myths going around about the effects of the sun, several of which need to be put back into perspective. Here is a way to test your knowledge.

True or false

1. I’m tan, so I’m protected.

False. Being tan provides no protection from the sun. It causes premature aging of the skin, as well as wrinkles and brown spots.

2. The sun gives me enough vitamin D to satisfy my body’s needs.

True. It is possible to obtain enough vitamin D to meet your daily needs by exposing your face, hands and forearms to the sun, without sunscreen, for about 15 minutes twice or three times a week. Note that exposure times can vary depending on types of skin, time of day and location in the world (latitude). However, a vitamin D supplement is necessary in winter since the sun’s rays are not as strong and skin is less exposed.

It is advised to use sunscreen when you are exposed to the sun for over 15 minutes.

3. As long as I’m in the water, I’m safe from the sun.

False. Water reflects up to 50% of the sun’s rays and will not prevent you from getting sunburned if you stay in for several minutes.

4. Skin cancer is usually successfully treated if detected early.

True. But you must be on the lookout for any change or anomaly in the appearance of your skin or of a lesion. The signs of skin cancer can include:

  • a birthmark or beauty mark whose shape, colour or size changes;
  • a wound that takes a long time to heal;
  • a patch of skin that turns red, that itches, swells, oozes or bleeds.

5. Sunscreen will protect me longer if it has a protection index (sun protection factor, or SPF) of 30 instead of 15.

False. Sunscreen blocks about 97% of UVB rays if its protection index is 30, and 93% if it is 15. The sun’s rays start to deteriorate sunscreen as soon as it is applied to the skin, so after two hours, you must reapply, no matter what the protection index is. In other words, the index doesn’t mean that you can apply your sunscreen less often, but rather that you are more protected while it is active.

6. All sunscreens are equally effective.

False. There are many differences between sunscreens since they don’t all contain the same filters. Some filters only absorb UVB rays (which are responsible for cancer), while others only absorb UVA rays (which are responsible for aging); some, on the other hand, absorb both. In addition, some filters deteriorate faster than others in sunlight, which can influence how long they will protect you. Note also that certain filters are more likely to cause an allergic reaction.

7. I don’t have to put on sunscreen when the sky is cloudy.

False. Clouds let 90% of ultraviolet rays through, so you can still get sunburned when it’s overcast.

A few tips to protect yourself from the sun

  • Pick the right time for exposure: the sun’s rays are not as strong before 11 am and after 4 pm.
  • Stay in the shade by choosing a covered spot or using a parasol.
  • Wear a broad-rimmed hat.
  • Wear sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays.
  • Apply sunscreen with a sun protection index of at least 30.
  • Don’t forget your lips; they also need to be protected from the sun.
  • Reapply sunscreen after two hours of exposure.
  • Consult your pharmacist to find out if any medication you are taking can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

The sun warms our planet and our souls. What joy it is to see it shining through the window in the morning, announcing a beautiful day. But don’t be fooled by its charms; remember that there are risks associated with it. There are several ways to protect yourself against its harmful effects, including using effective sun protection. Don’t be shy to call on your pharmacist for help; as an expert in the matter, there is no brighter ally!

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