​​image of how to use sunscreen
UHN’s Dr. Cheryl Rosen says shade and sunscreen are the best ways to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. (Photo: She Knows Australia)​

The days are longer, the weather is warmer and parkas are officially packed away for the season. Summer is finally here after a long, cold winter, and many Ontarians are determined to soak up every ray of sunshine.

It's great to get vitamin D the old-fashioned way, but it's important your skin is protected from the sun's harmful UV rays, which can lead to sunburns, skin spots, wrinkles, pigmentation and skin cancer.

Dr. Cheryl Rosen, dermatologist at Toronto Western Hospital, meets with patients who have developed skin conditions due to acute or chronic sun exposure. She says people shouldn't be afraid of the sun – in fact you should enjoy it – but take necessary precautions to protect yourself as best you can.

Here are Rosen's tips for safely protecting your skin this summer. She also imparts advice on the best ways to treat sun-damaged skin for those of you reading this after a weekend of basking in baby oil.

Know your limits

Certain groups of people have sensitive skin, which makes them more susceptible to damage. Common traits of sensitive skin include red hair, blue eyes and moles. If you know you're more likely to burn than tan, you should be extra cautious in the sun.

Be shady

The most efficient and cost-effective way to avoid skin damage from the sun is to seek shade. Tall trees and a cool layer of clothing will do the trick!  

No tall trees around? You probably should have planned ahead (I bet you read that in your mother's voice, right?).

"Planning ahead means packing hats, sunglasses, sunscreen and water," said Rosen. "It's also best to plan your outdoor activities in the early morning or late afternoon when UV rays are lo​wer." 

SPF is your BFF

"If you know you'll be outdoors in the sun, it's best to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPF," said Rosen. "This should be reapplied every few hours and directly after swimming." 

Check out CTV Canada AM's list of doctor-recommended sunscreen.

Let go of the Aloe

"There is no scientific evidence that shows Aloe Vera heals sunburns," said Rosen. "If you have an acute burn, you should apply a cold compress and soothing moisturizer to the area. Pain medication or anti-inflammatories can also help with immediate relief."

If you developed a new mole, sun spot or skin condition as a result of chronic sun exposure, it's best to see a dermatologist or your family doctor before treating.

Sun in a bottle

"I think that everyone should be happy with the skin they were born with, but the reality is that many people want to achieve that 'summer glow' look," said Rosen. "Self-tanning lotions or tinted moisturizers are a great option but should not be used to replace sunscreen."

Don't neglect the neck

Forgetting to use sunscreen below your jawline leaves your neck vulnerable to the sun. This area of your skin is highly sensitive and may be prone to wrinkles.

No area of your skin is damage-proof, so apply your broad-spectrum 30 SPF sunscreen on skin from the top of your head to your toes.

*Stay tuned for the next installment of UHN's Summer Health Series on June 16, which will shine the germ light on the risks of public swimming pools. 

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