Sun Safety

Taking measures to protect you and your family from the sun year-round will help to prevent the dangerous long-term effects of UVR exposure, such as skin cancer, as well as the short-term effects, such as a sunburn.

Why this is an issue

Exposure to the sun and other sources of UVR without sufficient protection is known to cause harm to the skin and eyes.1–3 The first and second National Sun Surveys showed that between 1996 and 2006, Canadians generally increased their time in the sun without improving protective behaviours.4 At the same time, the incidence rates of melanoma, the most fatal form of skin cancer, have been increasing in Canada and are projected to continue to rise. If current trends continue, there is expected to be a 72% increase in the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed between the periods of 2003 to 2007 and 2028 to 2032.5

In addition to an increased risk of developing subsequent skin cancers, people with previous cases of skin cancer also risk developing a second primary cancer following a primary skin cancer. These include malignancies of the lung, colorectum, breast, liver, leukemias, and lymphomas.6 Both male and female rates of melanoma increase after about age 35 with higher rates in males after age 40.

Around 90% of all skin cancers are associated with solar and artificial ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure It is estimated that around 90% of all skin cancers are associated with solar and artificial ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure - a modifiable and preventable risk factor.

Myths & Facts

Protect your skin, protect your eyes.

From barbeques and ballgames to patio lunches and picking up the dry cleaning, sun exposure isn’t just something you need to think about on vacation. Protecting yourself and your family from UVR means protecting both your skin and eyes using a variety of sun avoidance and protective methods whenever you will be spending time in the sun – be it summer or winter, at home or away.


  • Whenever possible, plan outdoor activities for before 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m. between April and September when the sun’s rays are most intense.
  • Use sources of vitamin D that are safer than UVR exposure, e.g., dietary sources, including fortified foods, and vitamin D supplements. Intentional UVR exposure to meet vitamin D requirements is not recommended.

When you’re checking the daily weather forecast, make sure you also take notice of the UV index – issued daily by Environment Canada. Knowing the UVR maximum for the day will help you plan how much sun protection is required. The higher the UV rating, the more careful you have to be when outside in the sun.

Shade – when combined with effective sunscreen and clothing choices – provides important protection from the sun especially when the sun’s rays are most intense between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., depending on the time of year and location, and when the UV index is 3 or greater. On their own, hats, clothing and sunscreen are not 100% effective at preventing UVR exposure. You can also take time for periodic “shade breaks” when enjoying yourself outdoors.

Look for the following:

  • Permanent structures (inside or buildings that cast a broad shadow)
  • Temporary structures (large sun umbrellas or tents)
  • Trees with wide spreading branches and thick leaves

Good-quality shade includes dense vegetation and covered structures that offer shade from the side, and not just overhead, to protect against scattered UVR. 12-14 As a general guide, wider and denser sources of shade provide increased SPF.13 Cloth sources of shade, such as canopies and umbrellas, should have tightly woven fabric, and additional protection (clothes, sunglasses, sunscreen) is recommended under shade to protect against scattered UVR, especially on high UV Index days.14

Sunscreen should be used on exposed skin not covered by clothing or accessories. Consider using sunscreen for the lips (e.g., sunscreen lip balm), as well.

  • Use a generous amount of sunscreen 15 (e.g., the average adult requires approximately two to three tablespoons of lotion-formulated sunscreen to cover the whole body, and a teaspoon to cover the face and neck).
  • Reapply after swimming, strenuous exercise or toweling off.16
  • Use sunscreen that says on the label:
    • "Broad spectrum"
    • "SPF 30" or higher
    • "Water resistant"
  • Sunscreen comes in a variety of formulations. Find one that suits you best and apply it properly with thorough coverage. Sunscreen formulations that you find easier to apply thoroughly will be more effective.

For the best protection, sunglasses should fit closely and wrap around the face. Sunglasses should reflect or filter out 99 to 100% of UVR light. Many healthcare benefits cover the cost of prescription eyewear, including prescription sunglasses.

  • The best UV protection is offered by close-fitting wraparound sunglasses.17
  • Look for sunglasses or prescription lenses with full UVA and UVB protection. Examples of appropriate labels are "UV400" or "100% UV protection.”
  • Note that contact lenses, even those with UV protection, do not provide full coverage for the eye and the skin around the eye.

A range of clothing choices should be a component of comprehensive sun safety to ensure the best possible protection against harmful UVR.

  • Hats should shade the head, face, ears and back of the neck with a wide brim.18
  • In general, clothing provides better protection than sunscreen.19,20
  • Tightly woven or UV-protective labelled clothing is recommended.21,22

UVR Exposure

Overexposure to UVR is the most important cause of the three main forms of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.1

In addition to skin cancer, overexposure to UVR can also cause premature skin aging, eye damage, and a weakened immune system.

Skin Types

The pigmentation characteristics of your skin play a huge role in determining your risk of skin cancer. The fairer your skin is, the higher the risk.23 So it's important that you know what your skin type is and understand the risks.


Nevi are benign melanocytic tumours, also known as moles. They are strongly associated with risk for melanoma. The greater the number of nevi on a person's skin, the greater the risk of melanoma. An individual who has more than 100 common nevi or more than two atypical nevi has a five- to twenty-fold increased risk of melanoma.24

Family History

A family history of melanoma, or having a first degree relative (like a parent or sibling) with melanoma, is associated with a two to four times increase in risk of melanoma.25-27 Familial melanoma accounts for 5% to 10% of cases and is often diagnosed at a younger age.

  • 1 . IARC Working Group on Risk of Skin Cancer and Exposure to Artificial Ultraviolet Light, International Agency for Research on Cancer, editors. Exposure to artificial UV radiation and skin cancer. Lyon, France: World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2006.
  • 2. Yam JCS, Kwok AKH. Ultraviolet light and ocular diseases. Int Ophthalmol. 2014 Apr;34(2):383–400.
  • 3. Lucas R, McMichael T, Smith W, Armstrong, B. Solar ultraviolet radiation: global burden of disease from solar ultraviolet radiation [Internet]. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2006 [cited 2015 May 29]. Report No.: 13. Available from:
  • 4. National Skin Cancer Prevention Committee. Exposure to and protection from the sun in Canada: a report based on the 2006 Second National Sun Survey. Toronto: Canadian Partnership Against Cancer; 2010.
  • 5. Canadian Cancer Society’s Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2015. Special topic: predictions of the future burden of cancer in Canada. Toronto: Canadian Cancer Society; 2015.
  • 6. Canadian Cancer Society’s Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society; 2014.
  • 7. Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. 2010. The Economic Burden of Skin Cancer in Canada. Available online at
  • 8. European Commission, Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General, Scientific Committee Consumer Products, Opinion on Biological Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation Relevant to Health with Particular Reference to Sunbeds for Cosmetic Purposes (2006), 6.
  • 9. Agar N, & Young AR. 2005. Melanogenesis: a photoprotective response to DNA damage? Mutation Research. 571(1-2):121-32.
  • 10. World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, & International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. (2002). Global Solar UV Index: A Practical Guide. Pages 1-18.
  • 11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2012. Questions & Answers: Insect Repellent Use and Safety. Available online at
  • 12. Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition. Shade guidelines [Internet]. Toronto: City of Toronto; 2010 [cited 2015 May 29]. Available from:
  • 13. Greenwood J, Soulos G, Thomas N. Under cover: guidelines for shade planning and design. Sydney: NSW Cancer Council and NSW Health Department; 1998.
  • 14. Kapelos G, Patterson M. Health, planning, design and shade: a critical review. J Archit Plan Res. 2014 Summer;31(2):91–111.
  • 15. Health Canada. Sunscreen monograph - version 2.0 [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2015 May 29]. Available from:
  • 16. Bodekaer M, Faurschou A, Philipsen PA, Wulf HC. Sun protection factor persistence during a day with physical activity and bathing. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2008 Dec;24(6):296–300.
  • 17. Government of Canada, Health Canada. It’s your health—sunglasses [updated 2010] [Internet]. 2004 [cited 2013 Mar 28]. Available from:
  • 18. Morison WL. Photoprotection by clothing. Dermatol Ther. 2003;16(1):16–22.
  • 19. Ghazi S, Couteau C, Coiffard LJM. What level of protection can be obtained using sun protective clothing? Determining effectiveness using an in vitro method. Int J Pharm. 2010 Sep 15;397(1-2):144–6.
  • 20. Aguilera J, de Gálvez MV, Sánchez-Roldán C, Herrera-Ceballos E. New advances in protection against solar ultraviolet radiation in textiles for summer clothing. Photochem Photobiol. 2014 Oct;90(5):1199–206.
  • 21. Lautenschlager S, Wulf HC, Pittelkow MR. Photoprotection. Lancet. 2007 Aug 11;370(9586):528–37.
  • 22. Ghazi S, Couteau C, Coiffard LJM. What level of protection can be obtained using sun protective clothing? Determining effectiveness using an in vitro method. Int J Pharm. 2010 Sep 15;397(1-2):144–6.
  • 23. Hill, D., Elwood, J. M., & English, D. R. (2004). Who gets skin cancer: Individual risk factors. Prevention of skin cancer (p. 3). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  • 24. Bataille, V., & de Vries, E. (2008). Melanoma—Part 1: Epidemiology, risk factors, and prevention. British Medical Journal, 337, 2249.
  • 25. Gandini S, Sera F, Cattaruzza MS, Pasquini P, Zanetti R, Masini C, et al. Meta-analysis of risk factors for cutaneous melanoma: III. Family history, actinic damage and phenotypic factors. Eur J Cancer 2005;41(14):2040-59.
  • 26. Olsen CM, Carroll HJ, Whiteman DC. Familial melanoma: a meta-analysis and estimates of attributable fraction. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2010;19(1):65-73.
  • 27. Ford D, Bliss JM, Swerdlow AJ, Armstrong BK, Franceschi S, Green A, et al. Risk of cutaneous melanoma associated with a family history of the disease. The International Melanoma Analysis Group (IMAGE). Int J Cancer 1995;62(4):377-81.