Fun in the sun: keep your skin healthy this summer

Published on July 8, 2014


The sun has finally arrived in Nova Scotia and it feels great! I have noticed an increase in energy in a lot of my patients, moods are brighter, and skin complaints (such as eczema and psoriasis) are reduced. There are many wonderful things about the sun, but of course, we still have to be careful. 

The statistics are increasingly alarming each year. According to Health Canada, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in this country, and melanoma is its deadliest form. They estimate that this year around 6,500 Canadians will be diagnosed with melanoma.

I remember when I was a kid growing up in Australia in the 1980s, sun protection was always part of our day: we weren't allowed to play outside at lunchtime unless we were wearing a hat that had a flap on the back that covered our necks and we would all run around with brightly coloured strips of zinc painted on our noses so we wouldn't get a sun burn.

And just when we thought we are being proactive and protecting ourselves from the sun by buying a bottle of sunscreen, a lot of research is coming out warning us that we may be doing more harm than good with certain products.

Fortunately, the EWG (Environmental Working Group) has launched a "Sun Safety" public education campaign in partnership with dermatologists and sunscreen companies. The campaign aims "to make sun safety as essential as seat belts." The EWG states, "Much blame falls on poor-quality sunscreens and misleading sunscreen advertising that leads people to believe, wrongly, that their products protect their skin from too much sun."

The following are recommended when shopping for sunscreen:

Avoid spray sunscreens: while these are definitely more convenient to apply, there is concern as to what ingredients are added to the aerosolized spray. Even the U.S.A.’s Food and Drug Administration has expressed concern about the safety and efficacy of spray sunscreens, especially when inhaled by children during application of the product.

Avoid high SPFs: SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” and only offers protection against UVB radiation which burns the skin. The EWG reports that it does not protect your skin from the sun’s UVA rays, which penetrate deep into the skin, suppress the immune system, accelerate skin aging and may even cause skin cancer. Products with extremely high SPFs may protect against sunburn but can leave skin exposed to damaging UVA rays. EWG recommends that consumers avoid products labelled with anything higher than SPF 50 and reapply sunscreen often, regardless of SPF.

Avoid oxybenzone: this is a chemical that helps absorb UV rays and is contained in more than 50 per cent of sunscreens on the market. This chemical has been shown to be toxic when absorbed through the skin and enters the bloodstream. It has been linked to hormone disruption in women.

Avoid sunscreen when combined with bug repellents: Dr. Walker, Naturopathic Doctor, advises her patients to avoid exposure to unnecessary chemicals found in bug spray that should be applied only every six hours, whereas sunscreen must be applied every couple of hours to be effective.

We need to have fun in the sun. We also need to be informed about how to have that fun without causing ourselves harm. Making smart choices about summer skincare makes for a happy summer and healthy skin that will last a lifetime. 

For more information on sunscreen and to see how your sun care product rates on EWG's sun care guide, visit


Dr. Amy Punké, ND, has a naturopathic practice at Whole Self Wellness Centre, 106 Stellarton Rd., New Glasgow (above Healthy Selection). Visit or call 902-755-1210.