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Practice safe sunning on vacation

Alexandra Pope, staff writer

March 8, 2011 — Tanning indoors before a vacation can give you some protection from the sun's rays, but a dermatologist warns that other defences are still necessary.

Enjoy the sun, but don't get burned
Enjoy the sun, but don't get burned

As March break approaches and people make plans to travel to their favorite sun destinations, many are also heading to the tanning salon to get a head start on that golden glow.

But a “base tan” is only a first line of defence against the damaging effects of the sun's rays, warns Dr. Samir Gupta, a dermatologist based in Toronto.

“The evidence shows that getting a baseline tan prior to vacation does nothing to protect you,” he says. “It only offers a sun protection factor of about 4, which is really sub-optimal. And in addition, it gives people a false sense of security that they can stay out in the sun much longer.”

Suntanning exposes bodies to two types of radiation -- UVA and UVB -- both of which can have harmful short and long-term effects, Gupta says. UVA radiation is what gives the skin a sun-kissed look, but it can also cause premature signs of aging, such as wrinkles and discolouration. UVB radiation is largely responsible for burning.

“More importantly, both these types of radiation can contribute to the three most common types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma,” Gupta says.

Shade, sunscreen and protective clothing, including eyewear, are all ways to avoid a painful sunburn and long-term damage
Shade, sunscreen and protective clothing, including eyewear, are all ways to avoid a painful sunburn and long-term damage

Gupta reminds his patients of three sun-safe practices: avoidance, protective clothing, and broad-spectrum sunscreen.

  • Avoidance: The sun's rays are at their strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so limiting sun exposure during those times is a good idea.
  • Protective clothing can include hats, goggles, long-sleeved shirts and long pants -- anything that minimizes the amount of skin exposed to the sun's rays.
  • Broad-spectrum sunscreen is any sunscreen that guards against both UVA and UVB rays for maximum protection.

“People can go on their vacations, people can have fun, but just practice sun safety,” Gupta says.

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