sun burn

Factors That Create A Higher Risk Of Sunburn

When going on vacation, or even just going outdoors for that matter, most people only worry about the direct impact the sun can have on hot summer days. It is rare that someone would worry, for example, in the winter or if there are clouds in the sky. The reality is, however, that the suns rays can be more detrimental to your skin when combined with certain factors.

Sometimes lathering on sunscreen just isn’t enough to fully protect yourself from the suns harmful UV rays when combined with these factors. The first step in getting the optimal protection is to understand how these things can magnify the impact of the suns rays. Once you understand this you can take the necessary measures to further protect yourself when in these specific environments.

senior man smoking cigar and sunbathing

In this article, we outline some factors that can amplify the suns UV rays. Some of these are obvious but others not so much. We also provide tips on how to optimally protect yourself in these situation.

Sand at the beach

Going to the beach to soak up the sun is nothing new in Western culture. Everyone knows that if you’re going to be sitting in the sun all day you should protect yourself from getting sun burned, but at the same time, many people go to the beach hoping to get a nice golden tan and misjudge the power of the sun.

When at the beach, beware that the suns rays will have a stronger effect than normal on your skin due to the fact that sand reflects about 20% of the suns UV rays. So you aren’t just getting hit by direct UV rays, you are also getting an additional 20% of exposure from the surrounding sands reflection. This means that even if you are sitting in the shade at the beach, you will still be getting hit by UV rays from the reflection and should protect yourself accordingly.

Reflection from water

Similar to sand at the beach, water also reflects the suns harmful UV rays. According to the World Health Organization, water only reflects about 10% of the suns UV rays. Although it doesn’t reflect as much as sand, this is still a significant amount of additional UV radiation that your body will be exposed to when you are in or near water.

beautiful sunset above the sea

When going inside the water, you will not only be hit by direct UV rays, but also by rays reflecting from the surface of the water. On top of this, any sunscreen that you put on will be reduced even if it claims to be waterproof so make sure to reapply as soon as you exit the water and dry off.

Thinning of the ozone layer

The ozone layer is like a massive invisible bubble protecting our planet from harmful external forces like powerful UV rays. It absorbs 100% of UVC rays, the most dangerous of the UV spectrum, and reflects a large amount of UVA and UVB rays as well. Unfortunately, due to pollution that we have caused on this planet, there are some areas of the world which are losing a significant portion of the ozone protection.

The most popular example of this is in Australia, where the ozone layer has depleted approximately 9% since 1960. To add to this, the ozone above the Antarctic is significantly thinned during spring time causing what is known as the ozone hole, which passes over parts of Australia. This significant depletion of ozone allows more UV radiation to hit the earth and it’s inhabitants, making Australia the skin cancer capital of the world.

Reflection from snow

One of the last places you would expect to get sun burned is on a cold winter day. Well, if you plan on spending lots of time outdoors playing in the snow you better take a second look. Snow is known to reflect up to 80% of the suns UV rays, giving you almost double the exposure you would normally face.

Sun reflecting on snow surface

Luckily, with the bitter cold of winter, it is unlikely that you will be walking around with much exposed skin that can get burnt. The most common places people get burned is on their face which is often now covered when playing in the snow. Just be sure to cover up as much of your skin as possible and put sunscreen on any exposed skin to minimize the damage that can come from these extra UV rays.

Cloudy days

Another place that people don’t expect to get sunburned, more so than in the snow, is on a cloudy day. Most people think that the clouds will either reflect or absorb the suns UV rays making it very unlikely to catch a tan or a sun burn, and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, clouds only reflect approximately 20% of the suns UV rays, allowing the other 80% to pass through and unsuspectingly damage your skin. Don’t be fooled on an over cast day, be sure to protect yourself in the same way that you would on a sunny day if you will be spending a lot of time outdoors.

High altitude

Although it may feel colder at higher altitudes, making you think that the suns rays aren’t hitting you with the same intensity that they would if you were hanging out at the beach, they are actually much stronger. According to WHO, UV levels actually increase with altitude, at an approximate rate of 10% for every 1000 meters in altitude.

Happy man with hands up on the top of the world above clouds

The reason for this is that the higher you go, the less atmosphere there is to absorb UV radiation. So being high up on a mountain top is much more detrimental to your skin than hanging out at sea level by a beach if you don’t take the necessary precautions.


Spray Tanning Pros Vs Cons

Thanks to tanning salons, we can maintain a beautiful tan all year round by using one of their UV tanning beds or a self tanning method such as spray tanning. Even in the summer, instead of sitting in the sun baking for several hours to achieve that perfect golden tan, some people opt for the much quicker and safer option of spray tanning.

For those that don’t know what spray tanning is, it is a form of self tanning that uses an aerosol type of spray with DHA as it’s active ingredient. DHA reacts with amino acids on the surface of your skin causing it to change into a darker pigment.


So is this stuff actually safe for you? In this article we explore some of the pros and cons of spray tanning.

Spray Tanning Pros

When comparing spray tanning to sun bathing or other self tanning products, spray tanning has several benefits including.

quick results

With spray tanning, you don’t have to sit in the sun for hours, allowing the suns UV rays to penetrate your skin and cause it to darken. You also don’t have to wait a few days until your skin fully changes into the golden pigment we all strive for.

Once your spray tan session is complete, the amino acids on your skin will react almost instantly, changing the pigmentation of your skin.

Safer than sun bathing

Sun bathing requires actually damaging your skin by causing it to darken as a protective bodily response from the powerful UV rays. UV rays are harmful to our skin, especially in high doses, and can cause several problems like premature aging of skin, sun burns and skin cancer.

sun burn

Spray tanning, on the other hand, doesn’t require you to bathe in the sun at all. As long as you make sure to cover your self in the sun, use sun block or sit in the shade during the peak UV hours of the day, you can maintain a beautiful tan without any of the risks of sun bathing

easier to use than self tanning lotions

Self tanning lotions is another safe alternative to sun bathing, but it is a little trickier than spray tanning. With these lotions it can be difficult to spread them evenly on your own body and quite messy as well.

Spray tanning is usually administered by a professional or an automated booth that will give you an even application all over your body, without using any sticky products that leave your skin feeling greasy.

Spray Tanning Cons

As you can see, there are many positives to spray tanning compared to other types of tanning. Like almost anything else in life, there are some negatives associated with spray tanning as well. In this case though, the pros definitely outweigh the cons,  as long as you use it in moderation of course.

inhaling dha is a health concern

While getting a spray tan applied to your body, it is almost impossible to avoid inhaling a small amount of the spray. Even if you try holding your breath, it is unlikely you will be able to do so during the entire process.

The danger with this comes from some new studies that suggest inhaling DHA may cause cancer. These studies have not been conducted on humans but it is something you should consider when going for a spray tan, only choosing salons that use the most modern technology, and doing it less moderately.

spray tanning is expensive

It should go without saying that spray tanning is more expensive than sun bathing, but it is also about 3 times more expensive than other self tanning creams as well. So it’s really up to you to decide if the higher price is worth the superior results that spray tanning provides.

Dangers Of UV Radiation Exposure

Everyone knows that spending too much time in the sun can be quite harmful to our bodies. Even with this knowledge, people all across Canada still flock to beaches all summer long to bathe in the sun throughout the short summer months in hopes of getting a  perfect golden tan.

Before you decide to do this, make sure that you understand just how dangerous extended exposure to UV rays are to your body. Some of the effects are temporary, but the more severe ones are long lasting and can even be life threatening. UV rays can have the following negative impacts on our bodies:

  • Sunburning
  • Premature skin aging
  • Weakening of your immune system
  • Development of skin cancer

sun dangers

Be prepared so that you can take the necessary precautions to enjoy the sunshine in a safe manner and minimize your risk of damaging your body.

Painful Sunburns

Anyone who has spent too much time in the sun without sunscreen on knows all too well how much it sucks to get a sun burn. Depending on how severe the sunburn is, you can experience symptoms such as your skin turning red, varying degrees of pain, peeling skin, itchy skin, fever, chills and several other symptoms. But what is actually happening on a biological level for your skin to burn?

As your skin is exposed to high levels of UV radiation, superficial blood vessels in the dermis dilate causing increased blood flow in the skin, which results in your skin turning red. The harmful UV rays are also damaging RNA in your skin cells and causing genetic mutations in your skin, which in the long term can become very dangerous.

Premature Skin Aging

Unlike sunburning, premature aging of the skin occurs after repeated exposure to the suns harmful UV rays. As you repeatedly expose your skin to the sun, the dermis begins undergoing structural changes while trying to adapt to the powerful radiation.

premature aging

Some of the signs that your skin is prematurely aging include:

  • dry skin
  • wrinkled skin
  • loss of skin elasticity
  • mottled skin appearance

Weakening of the Immune System

Recent research has shown that excessive exposure to UV rays can diminish the activity of certain cells that are responsible for triggering an immune system response. This in turn can make it difficult for the body to heal certain infections and, even worse, can stop tumor rejection making it more likely for someone with high exposure to UV rays to get skin cancer.

Development of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer, which is the most prevalent form of cancer on earth, can come in several different forms. Some of these skin cancers are a result of chronic exposure to UV rays while others are a result of periodic intense exposure for people that have unacclimatized skin.

skin cancer

The harmful UV rays damage DNA cells causing mutations for the next generation of skin growth. On top of this, the immune system suppression discussed above makes it difficult for the body to fight off any harmful mutated cells.

How Does Sunscreen Work?

Anyone who likes spending extended amount of time outdoors taking in the sunshine knows how terrible a sunburn can be. Even if you don’t get sunburned, most people understand the dangers of powerful UV rays hitting your skin. With extended exposure UV rays you are slowly damaging your skin and increasing your risk of skin cancer.

Luckily sunscreen exists allowing us to spend more time than is considered safe in direct sunlight while protecting our skin. But how exactly does sunscreen keep us protected from the suns harmful rays?


In this article we will explain how sunscreen can keep you protected from the sun, giving recommendations on what to look for when buying it and how to use it effectively.

The Effect Of UV Rays On The Skin

Before going into how sunscreen keeps your protected, you must first understand how UV rays affect your skin without sunscreen protection.

Their are two types of UV rays that hit your skin; UVA and UVB ranging from a wavelength of 290 to 400 nanometers, with UVB rays being the bigger threat to the health of your skin. When these UV rays hit your skin, the energy gets absorbed into the fat and proteins within your skin, creating free radicals which damage cellular structures including DNA.

This damage in the skin cells DNA will cause a burning sensation and appearance in the short term. In the long term it can lead to genetic mutations in your skin cell structure. Since your skin replenishes itself every few weeks, these mutations will get passed on to the new skin cells. As many of you may already know, mutations in living cells is the way that cancer cells eventually form. Sunscreen, however, can help significantly reduce these mutations.

How Sunscreen Keeps You Protected

Most sunscreens have two main types of active ingredients in them; inorganic particles and organic particles. Each of these has a different role to play in the sunscreens effectiveness.

  • UV raysInorganic particles, typically zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, form a physical barrier on your skin reflecting UV rays away from your skin.
  • Organic particles, like oxybenzone or avobenzone, absorb UV radiation releasing the energy as heat within the organic particles.

So as the UV rays from the sun hit your sunscreen protected skin, the inorganic particles help reflect a large portion of the radiation back into the atmosphere, while the organic particles absorb most of the remaining radiation giving off heat. Therefore, much less UV radiation is making it’s way into the proteins and fats of your skin reducing free radical formation.

Now that you know how sunscreen keeps you safe, keep on reading to understand what you should be looking for in a good sunscreen. With so many products on the market it can be difficult to understand all the jargon.

What To Look For When Choosing A Sunscreen

This can be difficult to understand with so many products available today. In general, you should be looking for a sunscreen with the following properties:

  • good sunscreenbroad-spectrum protection – this will protect you against both UVA and UVB rays
  • has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 to 50 – this really depends on your sensitivity to sun burn, higher meaning more protection. More on this below
  • is waterproof, even if you don’t plan on going in the water because sweat will also wash some of the lotion off

As long as your sunscreen has these properties you will be making a good choice. Aside from this, there are other factors to consider such as whether certain chemical compounds may react negatively with your skin, but this is really a case-by-case issue that each person needs to discover on their own.

There are also many different forms of sunscreen such as sprays and creams to choose from. As long as you are applying it properly, it really doesn’t matter which type you use, however, creams are considered to be the easiest and safest to use.

understanding spf

SPF is a measure of how well the sunscreen protects against UVB rays which are the more dangerous of the two types of UV radiation. UVB has a shorter wavelength than UVA and thus is the radiation that causes sunburns and most skin cancers.

So as an example, SPF 15 will protect your body against 93% of UVB rays while SPF 30 will protect against approximately 97%. There is no way to protect against 100% but even these amounts are considered safe.

The SPF number also suggests how much longer it will take you to burn in the sun than if you weren’t wearing any sunscreen at all. For example, if you normally burn within 20 minutes wearing not sunscreen, a sunscreen with SPF 15 will make you burn at 1/30 that rate, so it will take you 15×20, or 300 minutes to burn wearing the SPF 15 sunscreen.

How To Properly Apply Sunscreen

According to the Center For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), these are the guidelines for when and how to apply sunscreen.

sunscreen application

When to apply sunscreen:

  • at least 30 minutes before you go outdoors so it has time to absorb into the skin
  • after swimming or excessive sweating
  • every couple hours that you are outdoors to keep a fresh coat on

How to effectively apply sunscreen:

  • shake the bottle before application to ensure any clumps are removed
  • use one ounce to cover your entire body. For optimal effectiveness, you need approximately 2 mg’s of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin on your body.
  • apply sunscreen to all parts of your body that will be exposed to the sun

By following these guidelines you will be maximizing the effectiveness of your sunscreen, significantly reducing your chances of getting sun burn or skin cancer. Don’t think that you are completely protected, however, and seek shade when you can to further avoid over-baking in the sun.

The Science Of Sun Tanning

Now that the summer is in full effect, people are flocking to beaches all around the GTA to take in the suns rays and get that perfect tan they’ve been dreaming of all winter. But how many of them actually stop to think about why our skin gets tanned in the first place and what is a safe level of exposure to the sun?

We all know that too much exposure to the sun can be dangerous, causing sunburn or, even worse, skin cancer. Even with this general knowledge, there are still many people that spend hours on end laying in the sun on hot summer days, not knowing how much exposure is considered “too much”.

sun tanning

This is actually a tough question to answer because it is really dependent on several factors, some of which are unique to each person. In this article we break down the science of sun tanning explaining how your body reacts to the suns UV rays and how long is a safe amount of time to spend directly in the sun.

How Sun Tanning Works

Although tanned skin may be considered a thing of beauty in Canada, it is in fact our bodies natural response to protect the skin from harmful UV rays. It is a natural process that happens in many animals, with humans being the only ones that deliberately put ourselves in harms way for this process to occur.

How UVB and UVA rays penetrates into the skin
How UVB and UVA rays penetrates into the skin

To understand how sun tanning works, first you must understand that we are exposed to two types of UV radiation from the sun; UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are what makes people tan and is the majority of what we are exposed to, while UVB rays are more dangerous, potentially causing the top layer of our skin to burn.

When UVA rays make contact with our skin they penetrate deep into the lower layers of the epidermis, causing cells known as melanocytes to produce melanin, the brown pigment that so many of us strive for. UVA rays also oxidize any melanin that is already at the surface of the skin causing the browning process to occur quickly. The purpose of melanin production is to protect the upper layers of the skin from being further damaged by excessive UV exposure by absorbing a large amount of it.

What is considered “too much” sun exposure

In reality, any deliberate exposure to powerful UV rays is too much, according to the FDA. Of course you will be exposed to the sun regardless as you are going about your daily life, but this is considered natural exposure and is actually a good thing since it produces vitamin D. When you instead decide to go lay in the sun for hours at a time just to get a tan, you are purposely damaging your skin just to look good.

sun burn

Even if you do get a tan, the protection that the tan offers is not significant by any means. The recommended protection from the sun is an SPF of 15, whereas the average tanned skin will only provide an SPF of approximately 5, leaving your skin exposed to harmful UV rays. The more time you spend in the sun, the more likely that the suns rays can burn the top layer of your skin, and in the long run maybe even develop skin cancer.

Safe Alternatives To Sun Tanning

It’s understandable that people want to achieve a nice skin color to impress those around them. But is it really worth the risk of damaging your skin or getting skin cancer?

Luckily there are safe ways to make your skin a beautiful golden hue without exposing it to damaging UV rays. The most popular method available is to use a sunless tanning solutions like spray tanning.

spray tanning

Spray tanning uses an ingredient known as DHA which interacts with amino acids on your skins top layer. The reaction causes a brownish pigment to be produced giving you the same glow that a natural sun tan would yield, minus the exposure to harmful UV rays. The only problem with this is that your skin won’t have greater protection from the sun like it would if it was naturally tanned, but at least you’re not damaging your skin in the process.

In reality, we should all stop focusing so much on social norms that tell us what is and what isn’t beautiful at the expense of our health. Instead just be happy for what you have in life knowing that we all have our own unique beauty from within, regardless of the color of our skin.

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