Sun Safety



Sun Safety

Sun Safety Guidelines

Outdoor Workers

Children and Infants

Tanning Beds and UV radiation

UV radiation and medicines

UV Radiation and Vitamin D

Sun Safety Myths

Resources for Educators

Resources for Municipalities




Having a tan means that the skin has been damaged by the ultraviolet radiation.  The radiation can also cause sunburn, premature aging, cataracts and over time, skin cancers.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Canada. It is also one of the most preventable. Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma alone, account for 40% of cancer diagnoses.  The number of cases of the more serious Malignant Melanoma continues to rise annually and is doubling every ten years.

Skin cancer is preventable, visible and curable if detected and treated early.

1 in 7 people today are at risk of developing skin cancer at some point in their lifetime.

  • The risk is higher for people who:
  • Have fair skin
  • Work, play or exercise in the sun for long periods of time
  • Had one or more blistering sunburns as a child
  • Use tanning devices, such as tanning booths or sunlamps
  • Have a family history of skin cancer
  • Individuals who have had organ transplants
  • Freckle easily or have many moles

Some of the reasons for the increase in the incidence of skin cancer may be:

  • the depletion of the ozone layer, which gives the earth some protection
  • increased outdoor leisure, sun tanning, clothing that does not protect the skin from the sun and
  • the increased use of tanning beds.

Other factors may be increased awareness of skin cancer, improved diagnostics and increased life expectancy (Nahar, 2013).

Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is the main cause of skin cancer.  This comes from both the sun and artificial UV-emitting equipment such as tanning beds.

It is estimated the 90% of melanoma diagnoses in North America are related to UVR and that intense exposure, especially early in life, along with a history of having had a sun burn, are most closely associated.

Other important risk factors are:

  • having fair skin, red or blonde hair,
  • blue or green eyes,
  • skin that burns easily and
  • multiple or atypical nevi, a birthmark or mole on the skin (Government of Canada, 2014).

Skin cancer can be caused from:

  • exposure over time,
  • or from intense periods of sun exposure.

For most people, the vast majority of UV exposure happens before they turn 18 years old. People who have had at least one blistering sunburn as a child or teenager have a higher risk of developing melanoma later in life. The more sunburns and sun exposure that a person has had, the greater the risk of developing skin cancer.

There is an increased risk of melanoma with the use of tanning beds, which are specifically designed to give a quick, dark tan.  They achieve this with high doses of UVA and/or UVB radiation.  The greatest concern is for those who begin using tanning beds at a young age.

The risk of melanoma is increased by 59% for those who begin indoor tanning before the age of 35 years (Government of Canada, 2014). Multiple studies have found that this early use can increase risk of skin cancer generally by 75% (How to Promote Sun Safety, May 2017).

UV Radiation and the Skin


Sun Safety Guidelines

  1. Enjoy the sun safely: Protect your skin, protect your eyes.
  2. When the UV index is 3 or higher, protect your skin as much as possible.  (In Canada, the UV index is most often 3 or higher from 11 AM – 3 PM, between April and September.  This is true, even when it is cloudy) Check the daily forecast for the UV Index UV Index forecast.

    UV Index

  3. Seek shade when possible, or bring your own. (e.g. an umbrella or canopy).
  1. Wear clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to cover as much skin as possible.
  2. Wear sunglasses or prescription eyeglasses with UV-protective lenses.  Look for “100% UV protection” or “UV400” on the label. The rays from the sun that can harm are eyes are present throughout the day, all year long.  There are times when eye protection is needed, even when skin protection is not. How to select the perfect pair of Sunglasses.
Sun Protection
  1. Use sun screen SPF 30 or higher that is labelled “broad-spectrum” and “water-resistant” on all exposed skin.  Apply generously.  Re-apply periodically, especially after sweating or going in the water. Don’t forget often missed areas: tops of ears, nose, shoulders, feet, scalp (if hair-challenged)… Sunscreen lip balm is also recommended to protect your lips too!
  2. Never use UV tanning equipment or deliberately try to get a suntan. The Skin Cancer Prevention Act (Tanning Beds), bans the use of tanning beds by youth under 18 years of age. Check out this video from the Canadian Dermatological Association talking about tanning beds and prom expectations.

    Tanning prohibited for those under 18

  3. Avoid sunburn. Check out this video Why No Tan is a Safe Tan.




Outdoor Workers

Outdoor Workers

If your occupation involves you being exposed to UV radiation either from the sun or from artificial sources, you might talk to your Occupational Health and Safety Officer about safety measures.

The Sun Safety at Work Canada (SSAWC) supports workplaces in helping protect their employees from the dangers of exposure to sunlight.

The website supports the development of a sun safety program as part of an occupational health and safety management system. More than 70 free resources on sun safety are available to download from the website. A range of resources are also available in French, with Spanish and Punjabi.

Outdoor workers, those in construction, farming, and building care and maintenance have up to a 3.5 times greater risk of skin cancer than indoor workers, at least 5,000 skin cancers each year are attributed to occupational sun exposure.




Children and Infants

For most people the lifetime exposure to UV rays occurs before they turn 18 years old. The sun exposure children receive while they are young, increases their risk of developing skin cancer as adults. Protecting your child from ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun will reduce this risk. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Canada. It is also one of the most preventable.

How parents can protect their children from the sun:

  • Plan outdoor activities outside peak UV times – in other words, before 11am and after 3pm. (Daylight Savings time). UV radiation levels are highest in the middle of the day and your child’s skin will burn more quickly during this period than in the early morning or late afternoon. Try to influence their pre-school or school to change schedules so that they are not outside during these hours. Book sports activities outside of these time zones.
  • UV rays are not hot, so they can’t be seen or felt. It is still possible to get burnt even though it’s not hot, and on cool or cloudy days.
  • Use hats and clothing.  Broad-brimmed (8–10 cms or 3 inches) or legionnaire-style hats which cover the face, neck and ears can reduce UV radiation to these areas by about 50 per cent. Children should also wear loose, comfortable clothing that protects the arms, legs, body and neck from the sun. Generally, the closer the weave of the fabric the better the protection from UV radiation.  Man-made fabrics such as polyester and Lycra also provide better protection than does cotton or other natural fibres.
  • Be a positive role model.  Children often copy those around them and learn by imitation. If you adopt sun protection behaviours, the children in your care are more likely to do the same, and continue to do so through adolescence and adulthood.
  • Encourage children to play in the shade.  Plant trees or erect temporary or permanent shade structures in the places where your child plays, or move activities, eg. wading pools, into shaded areas. Remember that UV rays can be reflected onto your child even when they’re in the shade, so use clothing, a hat and sunscreen as well.
  • Use an SPF 30+, broad spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen on body parts not able to be covered by hats or clothing. Apply 20-30 minutes before going outside and reapply periodically as sunscreen is easily wiped or sweated off. Use sunscreen lip balm as well. Never use sunscreen as the only form of protection, or to increase the amount of time you and your child would normally spend in the sun. Do not apply sunscreen around a child’s eyes as it may sting and burn.  Instead, protect the eyes with sunglasses.
  • Use sunglasses to protect your child’s eyes. There is a wide range of effective and inexpensive children’s sunglasses available. Make sure they are designed to be close-fitting around the eyes and that they block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Keep babies under one year of age out of direct sunlight.  This will also prevent dehydration and sunstroke.  Keep them protected in a covered stroller, under an umbrella, or in the shade, however keep in mind that UV rays can be reflected so they may be at risk of getting UV rays in the shade as well.
  • Make sun safety a lifestyle habit for both you and your child. Remember that childhood protection decreases the chances of developing skin cancer later in life.

Sun Safety Tips for Parents


What is SPF?

Sun protection factor (SPF) is a number on sunscreen labels that shows how long skin can be in the sun and maintain a low risk for sunburn. The higher the SPF number, the longer it protects a person from the sun's burning rays.


Babies under 12 months should be kept out of direct sunlight
  • Cover up as much of baby’s tender skin as possible
  • Choose shirts with longer sleeves close to the elbow and shorts or skirts that reach to the knee
  • Cover baby’s head with a wide brimmed hat and protect baby’s eyes with infant sunglasses
  • Too much sun can cause sunburn, dehydration and become a medical emergency for young children


Fact Sheet: Sun Safety Tips for Parents

Poster: Sun Screen Tips

Video: Chose a sunscreen


Activities: Sun Safety Activity Pack


Tanning Beds and UV Radiation

UV radiation from tanning lights is a contributing cause of skin cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Dermatology Association as well as Health Canada strongly recommend that people do not add to their UV radiation exposure by using tanning lights. The “Indoor Tanning is Out” video warns that artificial tanning is not as safe as you think! It is especially dangerous because UV rays from sunbeds can be up to 10-15 times higher than that of the midday sun.


Other possible sources of artificial UV radiation include:

  • electric and plasma arc welding and cutting tools
  • gas or vapour pressure discharge lamps used in lighting
  • curing paint
  • inks and other materials
  • bacterial and fungicidal cabinets and lamps
  • molten metal presses (only those that operate at 2500°K or more).

Fluorescent lights and halogen lamps also emit UV radiation, but research suggests that they do not pose a risk, particularly if they are fitted with diffusers.


UV radiation and medicines

A number of drugs, medicines and ointments can make you much more susceptible to sunburn and skin damage from UV radiation. These include some antibiotics, drugs for high blood pressure (antihypertensive), heart conditions and diabetes, psoralen, oral contraceptives, tranquilizers, anti-nausea drugs, antidepressants, some drugs used to suppress the immune system (for example, in a kidney transplant), and anti-inflammatory drugs. There are many others. Ask your doctor about any medications prescribed to you. If you’re taking medicine which makes you more susceptible to UV radiation, take extra care to protect yourself.

Did you know?

That some medications may increase your health risk and make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist to answer your questions about your medications.


UV Radiation and Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus which plays a big role in bone development. The Daily Recommended Intake set for Vitamin D is based on the assumption of minimal sun exposure.

The UVB part of sunlight is what creates vitamin D in your skin. However, season, time of day, cloud cover, smog, skin pigmentation, and sunscreen use are all factors that can affect the amount of UV rays you receive. Intentional UV exposure to meet Vitamin D requirements is not recommended. You can get vitamin D by eating fatty fish, eggs, and fortified foods. Examples of fortified foods include milk and margarine, and fortified plant-based beverages.

Most people in Canada are not deficient in vitamin D. However, if you have dark skin, are over the age of 50, do not drink milk, or avoid the sun, you are at higher risk of low blood levels of vitamin D. Talk to your health care provider to see if vitamin D supplements are needed. 

Poster: Seasonal Sun Safety

Seasonal Sun Poster


Sun Safety Myths


Myth:  You can’t get a sunburn on a cloudy day


On days when the sky is cloudy but bright, most UV rays still reach the ground.  On these days, people burn nearly as quickly as if it were sunny.  By comparison, dark, overcast decks of cloud block most UV rays.


Myth:  A tan protects you from sun damage


A tan only has as much protection as using a sunscreen with an SPF of 3, which is quite minimal, so a tan does not protect you from skin damage.  Even with a tan you still burn just as a dark-skinned person can also burn without protection.  A sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater is still a necessity.  Without protection, ultraviolet rays will increase your risk of skin cancer, cataracts and cause premature wrinkling.



Myth:  Staying in the shade prevents burning


You can get a sunburn in the shade if you are near reflective surfaces such as water, snow, sand, or even concrete—where the sun’s rays can reflect onto your skin. It is still recommended however, to seek shade when possible.


Myth: You won’t sunburn while swimming


The sun’s rays penetrate under water, so people swimming or playing in water absorb nearly as much UV radiation as those on land nearby.  Use a broad-spectrum and water-resistant sunscreen with SPF30 or higher and reapply frequently and liberally.



Myth: A tan is the body’s way of adapting to ultra-violet radiation.


Tanned skin is damaged skin. The tan will fade, but the skin doesn’t forget and at some point, may no longer be able to repair itself.


Resources for Educators

Children and youth are particularly sensitive to sun exposure. They spend time outside when the sun is strong, especially during lunches, breaks and recreational activities.  Schools and community organizations can play a role in creating a sun safe environment for students and staff by minimizing exposure and practicing healthy, safe enjoyment of the outdoors. 

Guides: Guide for Elementary Schools 2018-19

Elementary Curriculum: GBHU Recommendations for Sun Safe Curriculum for Schools  

Outdoor Classrooms: Design Ideas for Outdoor Classrooms

Fact Sheet: Sun Safety for Childcare Providers and Educators

Fact Sheet: Designing for Shade on Your School Playgrounds

Workshop: Shade for Kids Workshop

Shade Policy: Policy Primer for School Boards Example School Board Policy: Waterloo Region District School Board


Additional information on personal sun protection practices, check these resources:


Resources for Municipalities

Guidance for Cooling Centres During COVID-19

Staying Cool Infographic


Communities can have a significant impact on the amount of sun exposure that their children, in particular, have.  This can happen with some planning to plant deciduous trees strategically, build shade structures where people spend time (like parks and community gathering areas) and insisting that new developments retain as many trees as possible, or plant a minimum of one good-sized tree on each of the sub-divided properties.

There is also great opportunity to work with community schools to encourage and support them to fund-raise and apply for grants to increase shade on school playgrounds.

Additional supports and resources are available through the Ontario Sun Safety Working Group, a partnership of individuals and organizations working together to reduce the impact of solar and artificial ultraviolet (UV) radiation (including indoor tanning equipment) on human health, such as skin cancer and eye diseases.


Shade Policies (UVOntario): Incorporating Shade Policies into Official Plans and municipal documents is one method of ensuring sun safety is incorporated into communities.

Policy Frameworks: Shade Policy Framework (SunSmart)

Policy Guidelines: Creating Shade at Public Facilities - Policy and Guidelines for Local Government Second Edition (Queensland Government)

Fact Sheet: Shade Policy (Evergreen / Region of Waterloo)

Shade Audit Tool

Shade Audit Tool - This document walks through the steps to complete a shade audit for specific locations within the municipality.  Public Health is recommending that the municipality use this tool to complete an audit in one of the local parks or community spaces.  The results will inform future decisions regarding the need for more trees or shade structures, and where to most effectively place them.  A different municipal location could then be chosen in upcoming years and budget terms.



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