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Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On You (Without Sunscreen)

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When it comes to sunscreen, everyone knows its importance—or do they? Afterall, there are many myths and misconceptions about sunscreen still around. The benefits of proper sunscreen application are invaluable, including preventing premature aging, preventing sunburn, and most importantly, preventing skin cancer. With this in mind, let’s discuss the important things to know about proper sunscreen application, different types of sunscreens, and the possible environmental impacts of certain ingredients in sunscreen.


Sunscreen comes in two variations: chemical and mineral. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, chemical sunscreens absorb UVA and UVB rays which are responsible for premature aging and skin cancer. This is due to chemicals such as avobenzone and octisalate.

Mineral sunscreens use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to create a barrier on your skin to block the UV rays from reaching your skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that both types of sunscreens have been proven safe and effective in preventing skin cancer and premature aging.

There are two types of UV rays that can affect the skin: UVA rays and UVB rays. UVA rays are longer than UVB rays and can penetrate deeper into the skin, while UVB rays are shorter and penetrate the outer layer of the skin. UVA rays cause immediate tanning and some skin cancers. UVB rays cause delayed tanning and the majority of skin cancers. Most importantly, both kinds of UV rays are damaging to the skin. That’s why consumers should look for broad-spectrum protection sunscreens which protect the skin from both of the harmful rays.

Why is this important? Too much UV radiation from the sun can damage the skin’s cells. UV radiation changes the DNA within the skin cells so that they no longer do what they’re supposed to do. Instead of functioning normally, the skin cells now replicate and divide too quickly and cause tumours, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Even though people typically associate sunscreen with the sun and summer, it is important to know that UV rays can still penetrate clouds. Furthermore, although the sun is stronger in the summer, it takes no days off and can still cause damage in the colder months. This effect is exacerbated by things like snow which reflect the sun’s rays.

Deciding which type of sunscreen to use is up to the individual. Those with sensitive skin may find mineral sunscreens less irritating to the skin and eyes. However, mineral sunscreens can leave a white cast on the skin so some people might prefer a chemical sunscreen which absorbs into the skin. Whichever type someone decides to use, it is important they wear it properly and consistently.

Sunscreens, both mineral and chemical should be reapplied every two hours. This might surprise some people who apply it once in the morning and call it a day. However, sunscreen doesn’t last all day and wears off even faster when excessively sweating or swimming. Even sunscreens that advertise being water resistant should still be reapplied after taking a dip in the pool or the ocean. Additionally, working out under the sun and sweating can cause sunscreen to run off the skin.

Health Canada recommends using a teaspoon for each arm and leg, a teaspoon to all areas exposed on your front, and a teaspoon for all areas exposed on your back. For the face, they recommend one teaspoon for the face and neck. This is a total of seven teaspoons for the whole body, reapplied ever two hours or sooner.

Sun protection factor (SPF) should be 30 or higher, recommends Health Canada. However, a higher SPF is not a substitute for reapplying sunscreen and it should still be reapplied every two hours.

Makeup wearers might wonder how they should reapply sunscreen over their makeup. Thankfully, sunscreen comes in sprays and even in setting powders that can be applied on top of makeup. However, it is always important to stay in the shade whenever possible and wear large-brimmed hats to protect the face from the sun instead of relying 100 percent on SPF.


Consumers may have noticed some sunscreens now labelled with “reef safe” or “reef friendly.” This refers to the impact that certain ingredients found in some sunscreens have had on coral reefs in laboratory studies. These ingredients include oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are found in some chemical sunscreens. Does this mean people should toss their chemical sunscreens and opt for mineral-only sunscreens?

The answer is not so black and white. In a CBC article from 2021, several experts weighed in and determined there isn’t enough data as of yet to make a definitive conclusion. For example, some studies exposed coral reefs to more oxybenzone and octinoxate than would actually be found in the environment. An article published by the Smithsonian Institution notes that several studies have been conducted and have shown that these ingredients can be harmful to coral larvae, baby coral, and anemones (a relative of coral reefs). However, this was all performed in lab settings and therefore it is inconclusive whether or not this would occur in the ocean.

The good news is that consumers can use mineral sunscreens if they are concerned about this information. However, it is also important to note that factors such as the climate crisis undoubtedly cause significant harm to coral reefs, so prioritizing minimizing environmental impacts may be more beneficial.


The important thing to remember moving forward is to wear sunscreen every day and wear it properly. This means applying a sufficient amount for sun protection and reapplying every two hours or sooner, depending on what you’re doing. The type of sunscreen you choose to wear is up to you and what works best for your skin. As for the environment, more research needs to be conducted to give a conclusive answer, but concerned consumers should opt for a mineral sunscreen. All in all, sun damage is cumulative, so consistency is more important than perfection.

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