Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sun Safety for Summer Fun

Let me quickly debunk some myths about the sun and sun safety. First, there is no such thing as a “safe” or base tan – even if you use a tanning bed. People who have used tanning beds are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than someone who has never used one. The only “safe” tan is the spray-on kind (and that is not going to protect you from the sun – there is no SPF built into a tan). Sunburns do not discriminate – people of all ethnicity can develop skin cancer, though the risk of melanoma is 10 percent higher for those with fair skin. The sun is not necessarily stronger when it is hotter; you can burn on a cool, cloudy day. You’re not safe in the winter either, since the sun reflects off of snow (and sand, water, ice, and concrete), which intensifies UV radiation. No sunscreen is completely “waterproof.” In fact, manufacturers can no longer describe their sunscreen as “waterproof,” “sweatproof,” or label it as a “sunblock.” Now, sunscreens labeled “water resistant” also have to indicate how long it will last – either 40 or 80 minutes. An SPF 30 does not provide twice the sun protection of an SPF 15. SPF 15 filters out about 93 percent of the sun’s rays, and an SPF 30 about 97 percent. Anything higher than an SPF 50 has not been found to be any more effective than an SPF 50.

Now, on to some scary facts. Malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has risen in children and teens an average of 2 percent every year. Nearly 25 percent of a person’s lifetime sun damage occurs before they are 18 years old – although those are the years when our kids are still under our control! Just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles the risk of melanoma later, and a person with fair skin can turn red in under 10 minutes without sun protection.

To keep your kids (and yourself!) sun-safe, start by avoiding the sun between the hours of 10 and 2, when it’s at its strongest. Use a sunscreen with as few chemicals as possible, such as a mineral sunscreen where the main ingredients are zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which means that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Use a lip product with SPF in it since the skin on the lips is thin and burns easily. Avoid using a spray sunscreen in the wind, and do not use it on the face. In fact, it’s better just to use a cream sunscreen, as you are more likely to apply enough to get sufficient coverage. Also, sunscreens do have an expiration date. Some of them are hard to find on the bottles, but a good rule of thumb is to get new sunscreen at the start of every summer.

If you or your kids are in water or on surfaces that may rub the sunscreen off (like inner tubes or slides), reapply every 40 or 80 minutes according to the bottle. But always reapply at least every 2 hours. If they’re old enough to, let your child help choose their sunscreen. You want them to put up as little resistance as possible when it comes time to apply (and reapply), and if they picked it out themselves, they’ll be more willing to have it slathered on. Even little ones, like 2 year olds, can help choose. Just make it easier for them and only give them two options to choose from.

Your diet can help protect you from the sun! Antioxidants and Omega-3s can protect you from skin cancer, and caffeine can repair damaged skin. So load up on fish, yogurt, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, olive oil, red wine (just you! Not your kids!) and lots of water for the antioxidants and Omega-3s. Studies have shown that women who drink 6 or more cups of coffee daily are 30 percent less likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma or basal cell carcinoma, which are common but not normally lethal forms of skin cancer). Each 8-ounce cup o’ joe was associated with a 5 percent decrease in non-melanoma skin cancer risk.

Finally, follow the UV Index score daily to track the risk from the sun’s rays. The UV index is calculated based on the amount of ozone, the elevation, cloud coverage, latitude and time of year and indicates how strong the sun’s rays are (and therefore how fast you will burn!) Download the Environmental Protection Agency’s free app SunWise to use your zip code to see your area’s daily UV Index and UV forecast.

Note Feb 04 2016: This post was originally published online at Family Culture Magazine, but it seems to no longer be active. I previously had only a snippet here on my blog, but because the link to the full article was defunct, you can now read the whole thing right here at Prego to Legos!
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