Screening the sunscreens: Top tips to protect your skin in the summer heat

Dr. Beatrice Wang sheds light on how to protect yourself from the sun's rays this summer in Montreal, from what SPF is best to knowing how much sunscreen to apply and when.

Dr. Beatrice Wang sheds light on what SPF is best and how much sunscreen to apply and when

Sunscreen is one of the key ways to protect your skin against the sun's UVB and UVA rays. (Shutterstock)

Summer is in full swing in Montreal, and as the sun blazes down, it's important to know how to protect your skin.  

One way to protect yourself against the sun's harmful UVB and UVA rays is by applying sunscreen. 

"It's a good idea to make it a daily habit so you don't get caught off guard," said Dr. Beatrice Wang, the director of the Melanoma Clinic at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

People should wear sunscreen year-round, especially as weather conditions become more extreme, she told CBC Montreal's Daybreak earlier this week.

Here are some of Dr. Wang's top tips for protecting yourself this summer.

What SPF is best?

For everyday use, such as before running errands where you'll get limited exposure to the sun's rays, a sunscreen with an SPF of 20 or 30 is enough, Dr. Wang said.

She recommended using SPF 60 if you're doing any outdoor activities for longer periods of time, though, such as sports or gardening.

"[That's] because we know that people don't put on enough, and they are not putting it on often enough. So I think with a higher value, maybe we'll get a bit more protection," she said.

Dr. Beatrice Wang, the director of the Melanoma Clinic at the Royal Victoria Hospital, said it's important to apply sunscreen all year.

How much should you apply and when?

It can be tricky to tell how much sunscreen to put on to make sure you skin is properly protected. 

To get the level of SPF protection that's on the label, Dr. Wang said it takes about a tablespoon amount to cover just your face. To cover your entire body, you'll need a few millilitres of sunscreen.

"If you're on a beach vacation, and your bottle of sunscreen is only containing between 60 to 120 [millilitres], obviously you need a couple of bottles for the week," she said.

Applying sunscreen before you head out into the sun is important, she said, so that it becomes routine — and don't forget to reapply every two hours. 

While some sunscreens are water resistant, Dr. Wang said that "if you are sweating or swimming, you need to reapply because nothing is waterproof."

Spray vs. lotion — which is best?

There has been some debate around whether spray sunscreens work as well as creams or lotions.

Dr. Wang says you don't have to choose one or the other; instead, she suggests putting a lotion or cream on as a base coat, and then topping it off with a spray.

If you're using a spray, put it into your hands first and then rub it on to ensure coverage, she advised. 

People need to be more diligent with spray sunscreens to make sure they're getting proper coverage, Dr. Wang advised. (Darron Cummings/The Associated Press)

"The only issues with sprays is that it's hard for people to gage how much they are putting on," said Dr. Wang. 

"You have to be quit diligent with putting the correct amount."

Children can use the same sunscreens as adults. But she said it's important to go beyond sunscreen alone: long sleeves, long shorts and hats, or any clothing made from a thicker material, can help keep youngsters protected.

Should you switch to mineral sunscreens?

Mineral sunscreens use active mineral ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide, to create a physical barrier against the sun.

They've also been adapted so that they don't cause a white sheen when applied to your skin, and Dr. Wang said they're a good alternative for anyone who wants to use a product with less chemicals.

That doesn't mean they're chemical free, though.

Mineral sunscreens still contain a bit of chemical sunscreen because they don't completely cover the UVB and UVA spectrum on their own, she said.

What should you look for in a sunscreen?

When it comes to sunscreens, a steeper price doesn't necessarily mean a better product.

Instead, people should look for a sunscreen that has a label from the Canadian Dermatology Association, which indicates that it meets the requirements for the correct SPF labelling, said Dr. Wang. 

She also recommends looking for a drug identification number on the package. That number means the sunscreen has been approved by Health Canada.