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You should encourage your children to participate in outdoor summer activities, but when it comes to the sun’s harmful rays, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Thankfully, we have so much more data on the harmfulness of sun exposure, as well as tanning beds, than we did even a decade ago. However, the prevalence of skin cancer continues to grow. According to OutrunTheSun.org:
• Melanoma (the most deadly of skin cancers) is on the rise more than any other cancer.
• It is estimated that more than 137,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year.
• The incidence rate for children 18 and under increased 84 percent from 1975 to 2005.
Repeated sun exposure, and only one bad sunburn, can increase your child’s risk for developing skin cancer later in life. Here’s what you can do to minimize the threat.
Limit time in the sun.
This is the tricky one. We all want our kids to get fresh air and play outdoors, but the sun’s peak hours of intensity are between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Focus on early morning or late afternoon/early evening activities. If they must be out during peak hours, make sure there are areas of shade where they can take a break.
Keep babies out of direct sunlight altogether. Their skin is thinner and more vulnerable.
Given that your kids will spend some time in the sun, clothing is your first line of defense. Longer shorts, longer sleeves, hats with bills or wide brims, and UV-blocking sunglasses are essential, but you also want clothing that’s cool and comfortably fitting (so they’ll want to wear it). A good rule of thumb: when you hold any fabric up to the light, the more light that shines through, the less protective it is.
Sunscreen labeled as broad spectrum protects users from UVA and UVB rays, both of which contribute to skin damage and possible cancer. The SPF (sun protection factor) gives you a total sun exposure based on time and intensity, when using exactly as directed, versus using no sunscreen at all. So, an SPF of 15 means you can stay out 15 times longer, right? Maybe in a perfectly controlled laboratory setting, but not in the real world.
No matter how high the SPF number, broad-spectrum sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before exposure; reapplied every two hours; and reapplied after sweating, swimming, or wiping off with a towel. Another word of caution: don’t let a high SPF number give you a false sense of security. Sunscreen is only one defense against harmful rays. Shade and clothing are also vital to protecting your children’s skin.
Finally, UV rays can penetrate through clouds, so the precautions talked about above are just as important on a sunless day.
For further reading, visit the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/children.htm.
Author of this article
Bryan Leber, MD, specializes in pediatrics. He is a guest columnist and located at IU Health Physicians – Methodist Medical Plaza South, 8820 S. Meridian St., Suite 125, in Indianapolis. He can be reached by calling the office at 317.865.6600.