Suncare's My Three C's: Covered, Cool, Coated - My Family Travels

Summer's coming, the time when kids are vulnerable to dehydration and skin cancer from the sun. Despite decades of educational efforts, the average American is still not getting the message about the danger of exposure to the sun from UV radiation.

Results of a new survey by the American Academy of Dermatology found that a large percentage of Caucasian teen girls and young women who use tanning beds reported that their mothers also use tanning beds, at four times the average rate.

Studies show indoor tanning increases a person’s risk of melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – by 75%.  Are teens tanning indoors because they get the message that sun exposure is unhealthy? No.

Americans continue to Ignore Melanoma Warnings

The AAD found that 49% of those respondents who used tanning beds in the past year were nearly twice as likely to indicate feeling peer pressure to be tan.

If adults are not getting the message correctly — and you can see by the following statistics that if they are, they are ignoring it — then at least make sure you start your children on the path to healthy, lifelong skin and eye care.

A PreSun/Harris Interactive Survey of men and women 18-years of age and over revealed the following behaviors that are contrary to recommendations by healthcare experts:

  • More than a third of adults (39%) are not using sunscreens at all on themselves
  • Less than a third of adults (29%) apply sunscreen properly – before leaving home
  • Only 10% report having a healthcare provider advise them to use sunscreen regularly
  • Only one in five adults (21%) stays out of the sun in the afternoon when the sun is strongest
  • Only 15% wear sunscreen when working, playing or exercising outdoors in the winter
  • Nearly one in 10 (9%) "likes to get a little color first before putting on sunscreen"
  • Among adults who report using sunscreen, less than 60% are concerned that the sunscreen they purchase has an SPF of 15 or more

Let me reiterate that the heat and rays of the sun can lead to dehydration and can promote the development of skin cancer. Children are particularly vulnerable due to their large body surface area exposure compared to their size.

The Sun's Hazards are Always There

The sun's rays are most intense in the late morning and early afternoon (10am – 4 pm). Sun exposure at high elevations increases the risk for severe sunburn. The suns rays may reflect off of water and sand and metal parts of strollers and cause an unsuspecting child to sunburn.

If your child spends time in the sun and is taking certain medications (like sulfa antibiotics) an unusual skin reaction and rash can occur. Sunlight also interferes with wound healing and promotes scarring; apply highly protective sunscreen to healing cuts for at least 6 months after the cut occurred.

To avoid dehydration, make sure you and the kids drink plenty of liquids (not just water!) when spending time in hot weather.

Sun Precautions are the Best Cancer Prevention

To protect a child, limit sun exposure during the "hottest" hours. If older than 6 months of age, apply children's sunscreen (greater than SPF #15 is best) liberally and frequently throughout the day.

Look for the words "broad spectrum" on the label; this means the contents will screen out both ultraviolet A and B rays. Remember that "water proof sunscreen" will rinse off; reapply after getting wet or sweaty. Don't forget to apply sunscreen to your child's ears and scalp.

If your infant is younger than 6 months, avoid prolonged sun exposure, shade your child, put on a hat, and layer your child's clothes. Small amounts of sunscreen lotion can be used on infants also.

The sun can penetrate porous clothing. Consider investing in some of the new sun-resistant clothes (made of up to UPF 50 synthetics) being sold through catalogues such as "Sun Precautions" and "Magellans"; use Google to find garments rated as "sun resistant" or search "clothing with SPF" and you'll be surprised at the variety available. The pioneering Cancer Council of Australia (011 61 2 9334 1953) also markets sun-resistant products.

This risk isn't only skin deep. Protective sunglasses are now widely available and should be used if properly secured on your child's face.

Have fun in the sun but stay covered, cool and coated!

Six Tips for "Safe Sun"

Dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Hale is another source of tips on safe sunbathing, if you and the kids must sunbathe at all. She suggests the following year round skin protection regimen.

1. Apply, Apply, Apply:  The sun starts damaging immediately. Lather up on the sunscreen before you head to the beach or pool and once you are there reapply at least every 80 minutes, or anytime you get wet, towel off or sweat.

2. Double-Up:  The expression 'less is more' does not work with sunscreen. Once you have applied enough, put on some more! Do not be skimpy with your sunscreen, even if that means going through an entire bottle in one weekend.

3. Follow Your Shadow:  The sun is strongest when your shadow is shorter than you are. When this happens, take a nap in the shade.

4. Choice is Everything:  Choose a sunscreen that feels good on your skin, smells nice and is easy to use so that reapplying it does not become a chore. Also, if you plan on being active with a game of beach volleyball, use an ultra-sweatproof brand.

5. Protect Yourself in the Winter:  Many people forget that skiers are prone to sunburn because snow reflects the sun and the higher the altitude, the more burn. So lather up before you bundle up.

6. Visit a Dermatologist:  Whether you are one or 99-years-old, a yearly check-up with a skin doctor is a must. If skin diseases like melanoma are detected early, they can be treatable. 

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