Sun Safety

Enjoying the outdoors is important for your health and wellness. But there are risks associated with unprotected exposure to the sun. This risk comes in the form of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that we receive from the sun's rays which cannot be seen or felt.

Did you know...

  • The sun's UV radiation can harm the eyes at any time of day and all year round, even when it's cloudy
  • When the UV Index is 8 (which is very high), it only takes 15 minutes for the skin to begin burning
  • Many surfaces like water, sand, concrete and snow can reflect and increase the amount of sun's ultraviolet radiation that you receive
  • UV radiation can even penetrate through clouds

Enjoy being outdoors for all of its benefits, just make sure to do it safely by protecting your eyes and skin.

Ultraviolet radiation (UV) and how it affects your health

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a type of energy that you cannot see or feel but can affect your health. UV radiation comes from the sun as well as from indoor tanning equipment.

Damage from exposure to UV radiation increases with exposure. Health effects include:

  • Burns to the skin
  • Burns to the eye
  • Weakening of your immune system
  • Eye cataracts
  • Cancer of the skin and/or eyes

For more information on UV radiation and its health effects, see the Government of Canada's Health Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation webpage.

The strength of the sun's rays is measured and grouped with different levels in Environment Canada's UV Index. Protection from the sun is required when the forecast is for an index of 3 or higher. The UV Index is also found in weather forecasts on the radio, TV, or on free phone apps.

Everyone is at risk of skin cancer

Skin cancer is a disease that occurs when the cells of the body are damaged, causing them to grow out of control. Skin cancer is on the rise, and is the most common form of cancer in Canada.

Everyone is at risk for getting skin cancer from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Additional factors such as your family history, physical characteristics, sun exposure habits, particularly in childhood and in the workplace, and some medication can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

The good news is that skin cancer and eye-related disorders are highly preventable by taking steps to protect yourself and your family. See the section below on protection for yourself and your loved ones.

Children and the risks of sun exposure

Children are more vulnerable to damage from the sun. They love to spend time outside, but young eyes and skin are very sensitive to the harmful effects from the sun. A person's risk for developing melanoma skin cancer is strongly associated with the amount or degree of sun exposure they experience in childhood or their teenage years, even though the effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation may not appear until later in life.

Learn more about sun safety for children on the Health Canada website.

Outdoor workers and the risks of sun exposure

Adults and youth who work outside for two hours or more in the middle of the day have a higher than average risk of eye damage and skin cancer. The risk of damage from the sun can be reduced with proper protection for all outdoor workers. Check our Danger Due to UV Radiation from the Sun brochure to see how to protect yourself in five simple steps.

Outdoor workers can include:

  • Service industries such as landscaping, window cleaning, roofing, and painting
  • Construction, farming, forestry, orchards, and winery operations
  • Recreation and tourism such as lifeguards, sports, tour guides and camp counsellors
  • Postal and police services
  • Truck drivers and delivery people

For more information on outdoor workers and sun protection, visit the Sun Safety at Work website.

Indoor and outdoor UV rays 

UV rays will damage your skin and cause other negative health effects, including an increased risk of skin cancer.

The Skin Cancer Prevention Act (Tanning Beds), 2013 bans youth under 18 from using indoor tanning beds. As youth are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of artificial ultraviolet (UV) radiation, this law aims to reduce the likelihood of youth being exposed to artificial UV radiation at a young age.

How to protect yourself and your loved ones

When the UV Index is 3 or higher, protect your skin as much as possible.

  • Seek shade or bring your own shade (e.g. an umbrella). Babies under one year of age need to be kept out of direct sunlight
  • Wear sunglasses or prescription eye glasses with UVA/UVB protective lenses year round, even when it is cloudy, particularly around sand, water, and even snow
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and loose clothing that covers as much skin as possible
  • For anyone over six months of age, apply and reapply sunscreen that is at least SPF 30, and labelled "broad spectrum" and "water-resistant" on all exposed areas of the skin. Make sure to reapply sunscreen and lip balm especially after swimming or sweating. Sunscreen is not recommended for babies under six months of age
  • Between April and September, plan outdoor activities for before 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m.

For more ways to protect yourself and your loved ones, see Health Canada's sun safety web page and the Canadian Cancer Society Be Sun Safe web page.

What you need to know about sunscreen

Did you know that most people do not use sunscreen correctly? They either don't put enough on or put it on too late. Putting sunscreen on when you're already outside (such as when you're at the beach) is too late. Remember, when the UV Index is high (8 or above), it takes less than 15 minutes for your skin to start burning.

For information on choosing and applying sunscreen, visit the Health Canada's Sunscreens web page.

Sunscreen safety

Sunscreen is safe to use. Health Canada regulates the safety, effectiveness, and quality of sunscreens in Canada. Sunscreen products are classified as drugs and must meet the requirements in Canada's Food and Drugs Act before they may be imported, advertised, or sold in this country.

Health Canada continuously monitors safety information related to sunscreen products.

Shade for sun protection

Shade is considered one of the best approaches for reducing ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure.

Shade can come in different forms including natural, built, and portable shade, or a combination of these:

  • Natural shade is shade provided by trees, multi-stemmed shrubs and climbing plants
  • Built shade is shade provided by a permanent structure standing alone or attached to a building. Examples include arbors, pergolas, gazebos, retractable awnings, or shade sails
  • Portable shade is shade provided by pop-up tents, temporary shade sails/tarps, canopy tents, and umbrellas

Good shade also provides protection from the side, and not just overhead, to protect against scattered and reflected UV radiation that may come from different surfaces (e.g. sand, concrete, water, snow).

For more information on assessing and creating shade or reducing reflected UV radiation in your outdoor space, see the Shade page.

Sun protection in school settings

Children spend a lot of time at school when sun protection is needed. Schools can create a sun-safe environment for children to learn and play and staff to work by creating awareness, and teaching about sun protection.

One of the most effective ways to protect students, staff, family, and community members from ultraviolet (UV) radiation at schools is to provide shade by planting trees and installing shade structures around the school where the children learn or play.

To learn more about shade and schools, visit the Shade page.

Getting Vitamin D safely

Exposure to the sun does contribute to vitamin D development in the body, but there is no "safe" amount of exposure to the sun that does not put a person at risk for skin cancer.

Using the sun to meet Vitamin D requirements is not recommended. Instead, use safe sources of vitamin D such as food or vitamin D supplements. Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns regarding getting enough vitamin D. 

For information and recommendations on healthy eating which helps you to get your daily vitamins requirements, see Canada's food guide.

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