Sun Safety for Every Day

Taking measures to protect yourself and your family from the sun will help to prevent the long term consequences of too much sun, such as skin cancer, and also the short-term effects, such as sunburn.

Protecting Your Family

Limit sun exposure between 10 am and 3 pm and especially around midday. If possible, try to keep children out of the sun from noon to 2 pm when the sun’s radiation is strongest.

Use wide-brimmed or legionnaire-style hats, as well as clothing to shade the skin. If using a baseball cap, don’t forget to apply sunscreen on the face, neck and ears.

Try to plan activities in the shade as much as possible. Involve school age children by teaching them the shadow test for sun safety. It is important to stay in the shade when the sun is directly overhead and its rays are strongest. If your shadow is shorter than you, it is time to use maximum sun protection. Create a sun safe environment for your kids with shade trees, an awning or umbrella.

Parents remember children need sun protection while on field trips, during breaks at school, for outdoor sports and during the spring through to the fall.

Use an SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen. Don’t put sunscreen too close to the eyes as some children rub around that area! Reapply regularly, especially after sweating heavily or swimming. And don’t forget to use a minimum SPF 30 lip balm.

Protect children on cloudy days since most of the sun’s rays can penetrate light cloud cover.

Special note for babies

Babies are not born with a developed skin protection system and have sensitive skin that is thinner than adult skin so they burn more easily. A young child has more skin, relative to body mass, than an adult, so a sunburn will be more serious. Even children born to parents with deeply pigmented (dark) skin require maximum protection. Sunburns not only hurt and cause skin damage but they can also cause dehydration and fever.

Here are some tips specific to children under the age of 1 year:

  • Keep babies out of direct sunlight either in a stroller with a hood or canopy, under an umbrella or in a heavily shaded spot.
  • Long walks are best in the early morning or late afternoon. Limit sun exposure for long periods with an infant between 11 am and 3 pm, and especially around noon.
  • Babies should wear sun hats with a wide brim. Dress infants in loose-fitting, lightweight clothing that covers the legs and arms. You can use sunscreen (as below) on babies under 6 months of age although it is preferable to avoid the sun and use shade and clothing.
  • For babies over 6 months old, sunscreen may be applied to areas of the skin that are not covered by clothing such as the face and the backs of the hands. Avoid the mouth and eye area when applying. If a baby does rub sunscreen in his or her eye, no need to panic: sunscreen does not cause blindness, although it may sting a little.
  • Look for a sunscreen product with an SPF of 30 or higher that also provides broad spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB).
  • Contact your pediatrician at once when a baby under the age of one year gets a sunburn – a severe sunburn is an emergency.
Special note for seniors

Many people aged 60 or older face a high risk for developing skin cancer. If you are in this age group, you grew up in a time when little was known about how too much sun could cause skin cancer and premature aging of the skin. The truth is that it is never too late for sun protection. By protecting your skin from too much sun you can help prevent the onset of skin cancer and more sun damage to the skin. Keeping your skin healthy can help you enjoy your senior years to the fullest!

Be careful with medication

A small percentage of people taking over-the-counter or prescription drugs find that their skin becomes oversensitive to the sun. They can get serious skin damage including sunburn, blisters, rashes or swelling when out in the sun. Some of the medications which may set off these reactions include antibiotics (tetracycline and sulfa drugs), diuretics (water pills), anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, antidiabetic preparations and some acne drugs containing vitamin A or its derivatives. When a medication has been prescribed, check the common side effects with your doctor. For over-the-counter preparations, read the label and information leaflet to find out the possible side effects.

If you have an unusual reaction, check with your doctor.

Sun Protective Clothing
Commercially Marketed Clothing

For marketed sun protective clothing, the following categories are used to describe the protection value of American or Australia/New Zealand tested fabrics. The UPF ratings coincide closely with the SPF values given to sunscreen products in Canada and elsewhere. Of note though, since some companies may test only dry, unstretched fabric samples, be mindful of the “hole effect” if not indicated.

UPF Ratings and Protection Categories
UPF rating
(ultraviolet protection factor)
Protection category % UVR blocked
(ultraviolet rays)
15 – 24 Good 93.3 – 95.9
25 – 39 Very good 96.0 – 97.4
40 – 50 Excellent 97.5 or more
The “Hole Effect” *

By understanding the “hole effect” one can better grasp which clothing choice can offer better UV protection. All fabric that is woven has holes between the individual threads. The tighter the weave and denser the fibre, the better protection this clothing can offer. Should your clothing become worn out, tight fitting or wet, these altered states will increase the size of the holes and the amount of UV exposure.

* Phrase attributable to Menzies S, Lukins P, Greenoak G, et al.

UV Index

Environment Canada’s UV Index is a measure of the intensity of the sun’s burning UV rays. The higher the number, the stronger the sun’s rays. The scale runs from 1-11 in Canada but may reach 14 or higher in the southern United States and the tropics.

The daily UV Index forecast is a prediction of the maximum UV strength for the day. This peak is usually reached in the early afternoon. UV Index forecasts are widely available between April and September. Your sources include local TV and radio stations and the Environment Canada web site.

Recommended Sun Protective Actions
Low – UV Index 1-2

Minimal sun protection required for normal activity. Wear sunglasses on bright days and cover up and use sunscreen if outside for more than one hour.

Moderate – UV Index 3-5

Take precautions. If outside for 30 minutes or more, cover up, wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen and look for shade near midday when the sun is strongest.

High – UV Index 6-7

Protection required. Reduce sun exposure between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Take full precautions by covering up, wearing a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.

Very High – UV Index 8-10

Extra precautions required. Avoid the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Take full precautions by covering up, wearing a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. Unprotected skin will be damaged and can burn quickly.

Extreme – UV Index 11+

Take full precautions. Avoid the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Cover up, wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. Unprotected skin will be damaged and can burn in minutes.