The sun is shining, the pools are open and it is the time of year to be outside. Protecting your skin and your child’s skin from the damaging effects of the sunrays is critical to reducing the risk of skin cancer and premature aging. While it has been known for decades that excess sun exposure is a major risk factor for skin cancer, the rates of skin cancer continue to rise and it is the most common type of cancer. In fact, the rate of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, has been doubling every 10 years. Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of the sun and need the most intense protection.
New labeling of sunscreen may make it more confusing to chose one. There are 3 key things to look for when choosing a sunscreen. First off, is it broad spectrum? Broad spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB sunrays. UVA ray exposure can lead to skin cancer, while UVB rays have been associated with premature aging of the skin. It is important to block both types of rays.
What is its SPF or Sun Protection Factor? This is a measurement of how effective the sunscreen is at preventing sunburn. In general, the higher the number, the better the protection provided. SPF 50 is now the highest a sunscreen can be rated.
Waterproof or sweatproof – not anymore!! Sunscreen can only be labeled water resistant if it needs to be reapplied after 40 minutes of sweating or swimming. Very water resistant sunscreen needs to be reapplied after 80 minutes of swimming or sweating. Regardless of the type of sunscreen you use it should always be reapplied after drying off.
Sunscreen is only as good as its application! This is not the place to skimp on the amount you are using to cover a body. Dermatologist recommend using an ounce to cover an adult body – far more than the average person uses. Be careful with spray sunscreens since it is far easier to miss spots or apply unevenly. It is best to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before you will be exposed. While clothing will block some of the sun’s rays, the lighter the shirt, the less the protection. Apply sunscreen under that white shirt. As you head out the door remember to grab a hat that will cover your head and the back of your neck.
Don’t forget the eyes! Exposure to UV rays may contribute to the development of cataracts. Look for sunglasses that specify the amount of UV protection they offer and pick a pair that blocks 99-100% of the UVB and UVA rays. Keep in mind that the darkness level of a pair of sunglasses does not correlate with the ability of block the UV rays. Wear a pair that wraps around the head or with big lenses to provide maximal protection.
Keep in mind the sun’s rays are strongest from 10am-2pm so whenever possible plan your outdoor activities early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
While that golden glow of a suntan may look good, it is a sign that your skin has been damaged by exposure to the sun’s rays. Visiting a tanning bed to achieve that glow is not any safer than being outside without sunscreen. Tanning beds are dangerous to your skin and can lead to skin cancer and premature aging just as unprotected sun exposure can. Teenagers may be particularly susceptible to the damage by tanning beds and consequently tanning beds are believed to play a large role in the increase of melanoma in teenagers. Stay away! The only safe suntan currently is a spray-tan and even those are undergoing more rigorous testing to ensure that they are safe.
Whatever you do, when you and your family are outside this summer be sure to coat everyone with lots of sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply! Remember there really is no such thing as a healthy tan.