For many New Brunswickers staring out their windows and cringing at weather forecasts, the allure of heading South for a week is very attractive.
For Spring, March, or Winter breaks, many lucky New Brunswickers are planning their winter getaways to warmer destinations. The Canadian Cancer Society New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Medical Society want to help with your preparations to keep you healthy before you go and while you’re there.
Many New Brunswickers head to a tanning salon to build a “base tan” to keep them safe from a sunburn while away. We’d like to remind everyone that this has been disproven for years. Years of research have shown that a “base tan” provides no real sun protection at all.
No matter where you intend to find your sunshine, artificial tanning beds right here in snowy New Brunswick emit higher ultraviolet (UV) rays – usually 3 to 5 times higher than the intensity of the midday sun. And by the way, these tanning beds are classified as carcinogenic for humans. They are in the highest cancer risk category, along with activities like smoking, painting, paving, and chimney sweeping.
Young New Brunswickers should pay special attention to this advice. Research shows that melanoma risk increases if tanning beds are used before the age of 35. Tanning is one of the least healthy things you can do. Nothing says “forever young” like skin with premature ageing, wrinkles, brown spots, and other serious health conditions like cancer. And keep in mind that skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada.
New Brunswick’s doctors and the Canadian Cancer Society have both called for legislation to ban artificial UV tanning for minors, in an effort to prevent long-term skin damage and skin cancer. We used to have such regulations, which are in effect right now in places like Nova Scotia, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and other provinces. In the absence of this needed legislation, we need parents and guardians of New Brunswick to ensure that no youth visits a tanning salon – as we know that a majority of tanning salons in New Brunswick were still letting minors tan as recently as last year. (To learn more about why we need this legislation, visit our websites).
Planning to go – and while you’re away
As you pack, think about sun protection. Take a strong sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat with you. If you would like a checklist of things to keep in mind, visit the NB Chief Medical Officer of Health’s website.
While you’re there, common sense works best: think sunscreen, hats, and shade. Sunscreen of at least SPF 15 should always be reapplied after swimming, water sports, or exercise. Children and youth should use stronger sunscreens, wear longer, loose-fitting clothing, and drink lots of water. While you are there, reduce your exposure to the sun between the hours of 11am and 4pm.
For the rest of us who dream of such vacations, much of this advice extends beyond vacationers. For example, if you’ve heard about Vitamin D – or the “Sunshine Vitamin” – know that tanning is one of the least effective ways to obtain Vitamin D. Vitamin D can be found through food and even our winter sun. The best way to get enough of most vitamins is to eat a balanced diet and consider a supplement if your doctor recommends one.
The Bottom Line
Even if you are only gone for a weekend, remember that sun damage adds up over time. Sunburns don’t really “heal.” While it might take decades to develop serious skin problems, repeated exposure cumulatively increases your risk.
While you are lounging on a beach and inspiring envy back home, remember: there’s nothing quite as visible as a sunburn in the dead of winter. Take the steps to be prepared before and during your time South – and stay sun safe year-round.
Robert Desjardins, MD FRCPC
President, New Brunswick Medical Society
Rosemary Boyle, Acting Director, Prevention Programs and Support Services
Canadian Cancer Society New Brunswick