Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


Sun Myths and Facts For The Whole Family

shedding a little light...

Let's clear up some common myths about the sun today, shall we?

When I was a teenager, I had one quest for the summer: bronze skin. Achieving a fabulous tan had supreme importance in my universe. And I was not alone in this. My friends and I slathered our skin with baby oil, angled our foil reflectors towards the sun...sound familiar, anyone?

Yes, I shudder at the thought now. (And stare in dismay at the little lines and age spots that are only now starting to appear. Of course I have no one else to blame...my own damn fault...)

Still, I think I cleaned up my act pretty early on and in my twenties started swapping my Coppertone SPF 2 Dark-Tanning Oil for something closer to SPF 15. I now wear SPF 50 like a religion, year-round. Because it's never too late to slow that pesky aging process--and now I know stuff like this: most skin aging, on your face and hands, is due to repeated sun exposure...and only a little bit due to actual aging. Shocking, but true.

I must admit, I still feel a little sheepish revealing my pale legs in the summer. (I have a Welsh mother and an English father. The British are not exactly known for their golden tones. Pasty, some might call it.)

My sister, with the same skin tone, says she used to feel ashamed but now she says: "I don't care. I'm rocking the pale legs and I'm good with that."

Wouldn't it be fab if more celebs (like Ann Hathaway—yay!) would "rock the pale leg thing"? Then, we'd be full-circle and pale would be fashionable again. It was once. It used to be a sign of the leisure class (farmers and labourers were the only ones out in the sun, right?).

I mean, I'd like to be part of the leisure class, wouldn't you?

In the meantime, while we're waiting for the cycles of fashion to turn, let's take a moment to clear up some myths about the sun.

Can a "base tan" really help protect your skin?

Unfortunately, no. That's because UV damage from sun exposure is cumulative. Any sun exposure accelerates skin aging and increases your risks of skin cancer. Basically, tanned skin is damaged skin. It's been estimated that a base tan provides protection roughly equivalent to SPF 2 or 3. Somewhat under the recommended SPF 30, wouldn't you say?

I heart tanning booth are okay. Is this true?

No. Step away from the tanning bed. Tanning booths are a bad idea—The World Health Organization recently moved tanning beds to its highest-risk category for causing cancer (Group 1: Carcinogenic to Humans). Meaning, it's now in the same category of carcinogen as cigarettes, arsenic, asbestos, and plutonium. If you need more convincing, read this scary research about the deep skin damage caused the sun by our beauty guru, Dan Thompson.

How much sunscreen do you need to apply?

Most people don't apply nearly enough sunscreen. You actually need to apply 1 oz of sunscreen (a shot glass full) to sufficiently cover an adult—most people apply only 25-50% of the recommended amount. Pro-rate that amount for your kids, depending on their size. What's more, you really should reapply every 2 hours, and after swimming/sweating. Or after vigorous water-gun fights, if your household is anything like mine.

Isn't sunlight the best way to get vitamin D?

This is a common argument given in support of tanning, but it's a myth. Although it's the traditional way our bodies make vitamin D, it's perfectly acceptable—and in my book, a far better idea—to get vitamin D through diet or supplements. Read this for everything you need to know about vitamin D.

How important is it to protect your kids from sun exposure?

It's critical. Just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a child's lifetime risk of developing skin cancer. Plain and simple, it's your job to protect your kids from the sun.

What do you look for in sunscreen?

You need "broad spectrum," which covers both UVA rays and UVB. Although most sunscreens protect from UVB rays (which cause sunburns), only broad spectrum also protects against UVA rays (which cause sunburns and all the premature aging and skin cancer).

What SPF do you need?

The Canadian Dermatology Association recommends a minimum SPF 30. Also: avoid the sun between 10 am and 4 pm. Here's a handy rule of thumb: If your shadow is shorter than you are, it's time for you & your kids to seek shade. And don't forget a hat...and super-glam sunglasses, of course.

As a side note, one thing I have never been able to master is the proficient application of self-tanner. It ends up streaky, it smells bad, it's supremely time consuming...if anyone has any advice along these lines, I'm all ears...

Click for more sun safety tips.

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