The following guest blog is by Jaime L. W. Davis, M.D., F.A.A.D. Dr. Davis is Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology and Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology, University of Minnesota. She is CEO & Medical Director of Uptown Dermatology & SkinSpa in Minneapolis and a member of the SunAWARE Board of Medical Advisers.
Sun Protection for Your Children & You
Summertime is my very favorite time of year! But the warm summer sunshine is a mixed blessing. While it is wonderful to get outdoors and play in the sprinkler with the kids, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause short and long term damage to the skin. In the short term, UV light causes sunburns, suntans and freckles. In the long term it causes blotches, wrinkles and skin cancer. UV light from tanning beds is no exception.
Natural sunlight and tanning beds contain UVA (commonly called the “aging” rays) and UVB (the “burning” rays) which are the main wavelengths involved in causing sunburns, wrinkles and skin cancers.
And this can be serious stuff. One of every 6 Americans will develop skin cancer. That means that you or someone in your family has probably already had one. Chances are that this person has had many years of sun or tanning bed exposure.
The good news is that the two most common types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) are mostly preventable and are curable when found early. The bad news is that about 1 in 60 Americans will get malignant melanoma. This type of skin cancer can be deadly (it causes about 80% of skin cancer deaths). The incidence of melanoma is increasing at a faster rate than any other cancer and has been sky rocketing since the advent of indoor tanning beds in the late 1970s. Tanning bed induced melanomas have been especially cruel to young, otherwise healthy, women.
So we owe it to ourselves and our kids (of all ages) to be diligent in protecting our skin from the sun. And it is never too early or too late to start! Of course, outdoor activities are a fun part of summer, but you can see why it is important to make outdoor activities sun-safe. Being SunAWARE is easy!
Avoid unprotected exposure at any time, including tanning beds, and seek shade.
Wear sun protective clothing, including a long-sleeve shirt, a hat with a three-inch brim, and sunglasses.
Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher to all unprotected skin twenty minutes before exposure and reapply every two hours while exposed.
Routinely check skin for change and report any concerns to a health care provider.
Educate others about the need for sun protection.
Avoid unprotected exposure between 10AM and 2PM, and use extra caution up to 4PM. Seek shade as much as possible during these peak sun hours, when the sun’s UV rays are most intense. Remember that UV reflection from the water, white sand, concrete and snow can be especially intense. UVA rays can even penetrate through window glass and clouds. So even on a cloudy day or while inside an air conditioned car, sun damage can occur. And avoid tanning beds 100%, no exceptions. Teach your teens that there is no safe tanning bed. Treat them to the latest self tanning cream and you may be saving their life.
Wear sun protective clothing. Dressing appropriately for the sun protection is as important as dressing appropriately for protection from cold winter weather. Light colored, tightly woven clothing provides the best protection. Sun blocking swimwear is a great complement to sunblock creams (check out Coolibar). UV protective sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats complete a protective clothing wardrobe. An umbrella is also a great way to take shade with you wherever you go!
Apply a broad spectrum sunblock. Broad spectrum products protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunblocks generally contain a physical sun reflecting agent, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. We often call these “physical” sunblocks. They tend to be less irritating, but may not last as long. Sunscreens generally contain chemical sun filtering agents such as octinoxate or oxybenzone which literally screen out the UV light as it enters the skin. They last longer, especially in water, but can sting or irritate. There are also combination products that have the advantages of both. Most dermatologists prefer physical sun blockers for little ones over 6 months old. But for babies under 6 months, shade or protective clothing is best.
A sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 is preferred. Apply a generous amount 30-60 minutes prior to exposure and be sure to reapply every 2 hours or so, when swimming or sweating. It takes about 1 ounce to adequately cover your whole body. If there will be mosquitoes around, apply sunscreen before applying any insect repellent. The combination sunscreen & repellent products may lead to overexposure the chemical repellent, especially if reapplied as frequently as required for sun protection. So stick with two separate products.
Routine self skin checks (monthly) and regular thorough examinations by an experienced, Board Certified Dermatologist are a must. Annual exams are generally recommended, but they may need to be more or less frequent depending on your skin type and other risk factors.
Educate yourself and others about the importance of sun protection and encourage others to make this (and every) summer a sun burn free summer!