What’s the Rub with Sunscreen? Tips for Proper Sun Protection
“A drink in my hand, my snow up against the burning sand, probably getting gorgeously tanned in summer!” We are 100% in summer mode now with school being out and our kids are going to be spending a lot of time outdoors. So now is the time to have a plan for protecting their skin from the harmful rays of the sun.
It has been long known that solar radiation can cause skin cancer. Melanoma incidence has been increasing over the last 30 years. The group that has experienced this the most is young, white women (ages 15-39) and white adults older than 65. It is believed that a few things may be contributing to the increase including the deterioration of the ozone layer, spending more time outside for leisure activities and increased exposure to artificial ultraviolet radiation in tanning beds. When detected early and removed, melanoma has a great prognosis, but metastatic melanoma (meaning it has spread past the original location) has a very poor prognosis. This is why prevention is so important.
Who is at risk?
How much sun exposure a person can safely handle depends on a lot of factors such as skin type and thickness and amount of melanin (the part of our skin that gives it the color) in the skin. Here are some factors that put a person more at risk:
- Having a first degree relative with melanoma
- Freckling easily
- Having a large number of typical or atypical moles
- Having increased childhood sun-exposure history
How do I protect myself and my children?
Avoiding the sun is the best way, but I live in the real world and know that playing outside is important to everyone, especially children. The first defense is clothing. Fabrics that are tightly woven provide the best protection; if you hold the fabric up to the sun and cannot see much sunlight shining through then it is protective.
So now it comes to sunscreen. How do we choose the best sunscreen? The SPF system has been used for many years but probably few people truly understand what it means. A person who would normally burn after 10 minutes of sun exposure would be protected for about 150 minutes with an SPF-15 sunscreen (10 X 15). In general, the rule is the higher the SPF the better. Also, make sure the sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB radiation.
How do you correctly use sunscreen?
Sunscreen should be liberally applied 15-30 minutes before exposure to the sun to allow for absorption. The average adult typically requires 1 oz of sunscreen to adequately cover all sun exposed areas. It should then be reapplied every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating or drying off with a towel.
Can babies use sunscreen?
Sunscreen should be used on infants 6 months and older just like it is used for older children. For babies younger than 6 months, sunscreen can be used on small areas of the body like the face and arms. The best way to protect young infants is to keep them in the shade and have them wear cool protective clothing.
Hopefully with these tips you and your family are able to enjoy a wonderful summer outside in the hot sun all while protecting everyone’s beautiful skin.
1.) Balk, S.J, et al. (2011). Policy Statement – Ultraviolet Radiation: A Hazard to Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 27: 3.