Protect Young Skin from Sun Damage
“The sun does not shine for a few trees and flowers, but for the wide world’s joy.”
–Henry Ward Beecher
After a long, frigid winter that hung on far too long, we can finally relax and enjoy the warmth of summer. Swimming, playing sports, picnicking, attending festivals and musical events, going to the park, boating – all are fun things we like to do in the summer with family and friends.
Yet, even as families rush from one pursuit to another, don’t forget to take care of something really important – your skin – and especially, the tender skin of children.
Just a few serious sunburns early in life can greatly increase a child’s risk of skin cancer later in life.
While the sun brings light and warmth that we enjoy, keep in mind there are two kinds of rays being emitted – UVA and UVB. What’s the difference? UVA is the kind that penetrates deeply into the skin and causes wrinkles, fine lines, sagging skin and brown spots. UVB causes burns and tans. Over time, exposure to both rays causes skin cancer and cataracts.
- Skin cancer can affect anyone, regardless of skin color.
- Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with melanoma rates doubling from 1982 to 2011.
- Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
To protect the children in your life and teach them good habits, follow these tips – not only at the beach, pool or on vacation, but whenever kids are heading outside. It’s always better to prevent sunburn rather than to suffer the consequences after it’s happened.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen products with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 that protects from both UVA and UVB rays. This is known as “broad-spectrum” sun protection. Throw out your leftover products from last year, and purchase new sunscreen to ensure that the active ingredients work as intended. Remember, sunscreen should be applied 15 to 20 minutes before going out to allow for maximum absorption. Don’t forget to protect ears, noses, lips, the back of the neck and the tops of the feet.
Today’s products are a vast improvement over the past, when they tended to be chalky or oily, thick and left a visible residue on the skin. Sunscreen is available as a spray, a roll-on stick, a cream or traditional lotion. All products do not have the same ingredients; if your child’s skin reacts badly to one product, try another. There are lightweight or clear options formulated without irritants such as synthetic dyes or fragrances. Some products provide waterproof or water-resistant protection.
Take sunscreen with you to reapply every few hours, especially after your child swims or exercises. This applies to waterproof and water-resistant products as well.
As a rule, infants and toddlers should mostly be kept out of the sun. Follow the directions on the package for using a sunscreen product on babies less than six months old.
The sun’s rays are strongest and most harmful between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Therefore, it’s best to be outdoors in the early morning or late afternoon. If you’re out in the middle of the day, seek shade under trees, an umbrella, or a pop-up tent.
When possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can provide protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Clothing manufactured with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) is available from many different sources. Tightly woven fabric offers the best cover.
Hats that shade the face, scalp, ears and neck are another way to protect vulnerable areas. Baseball caps are popular among kids, but they don’t protect the ears and neck. Any exposed skin should be covered with sunscreen.
Sunglasses come in many colors and styles and are a great way to protect the highly sensitive skin around the eyes, and the eyes themselves, from UV rays, which can lead to cataracts later in life. Look for sunglasses that wrap around the face and block both UVA and UVB rays.
Unprotected skin can be damaged in as little as 15 minutes. But the effects may not show for up to 12 hours. So, if your child’s skin looks “a little pink” today, it may look burned the next morning. Take notice of how your child’s skin looks when you’re outside and if it starts appearing pink or flushed, it’s time to get your child out of the sun.
Cloudy Days Still Pose a Risk
Even on cool, cloudy days, the skin still needs protection. It is the UV rays, not the temperature that does the damage. UV rays go right through the clouds.
Teens and Tanning Beds
Contrary to popular belief that tans are healthy and attractive – tanning is actually damaging the skin. People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 (even once) increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent. Tanning beds expose the skin to harmful, unnaturally intense UV rays. Damage adds up over time and contributes to overall aging and skin cancer. Melanoma is being seen more commonly in women in their early 20s, with much of it being attributed to tanning bed use. The advice from most physicians – don’t use tanning beds and certainly don’t allow teens to use them.
So, take all necessary precautions to protect young skin while you’re out and about this summer.