It wasn’t long ago that we would think nothing of sitting on the beach without sunscreen or worse, covered in baby oil. Sunburns never seemed that dangerous in that they would fade in a day or two and your skin was left with a nice glow. Our knowledge has changed over the years, and we now know that sun exposure of any kind can be harmful without the proper protection. The sun’s UV rays can cause damage to the skin in as little as 15 minutes. Prolonged damage from time in the sun is a setup for skin cancer.
Some methods for reducing sun exposure are common sense. For instance, keeping yourself and your child under an umbrella or in the shade can provide a barrier from direct sunlight. Clothing can also provide a barrier to sunlight. A typical tee shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15. Rash guards have become very popular and do contain an SPF rating. Each rash guard is different so be sure to look at the label. Hats, with a wide brim, to shade your face, ears, and back of your neck are another method to avoid UV rays. Sunglasses will protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. Not only do sunglasses protect your eyes, but they also protect the more sensitive skin around your eyes.
The mainstay of sun protection is in the form of sunscreen. Before you go outside, even on cloudy days, you should put on sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30. Sunscreen works by absorbing, reflecting and scattering sunlight. Not all of these products are created equally, and some may contain chemicals so you should check the label on the sunscreen. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes up with a list of the safest sunscreens each year, which will give a better idea of their ingredients and chemicals. Parents should beware of sunscreen products that also contain insect repellant, and be careful when reapplying these products to avoid overexposure to the chemical Deet. Sunscreen does wear off so it should be put on every 2 hours as well as after swimming or heavy sweating. Be mindful of a sunscreen’s expiration date. It should be discarded after the listed date. For children under the age of 6 months, sunscreen is not recommended. Please talk to your physician about when to start using sunscreen. For your baby under 6 months old, utilizing barriers methods such as swimwear and hats should be the principal form of sun protection in addition to keeping your baby in a shaded area. Also, whenever possible, avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 AM to 2 PM.
Just a quick word regarding tanning beds – indoor tanning contains both UVA and OVB rays which damage the skin and lead to skin cancer. Statistics show that people who begin indoor tanning during adolescence have a higher risk of getting melanoma. According to data from the “2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System”, 20% of high school girls and 13% of all high school students are indoor tanning. Fortunately, indoor tanning is restricted in some areas for minors. Indoor tanning (as well as any sun exposure) causes premature skin aging such as wrinkles and sunspots. Indoor tanning is NOT a safe alternative to outdoor tanning. In fact, indoor tanning is designed to give you a concentrated level of UV radiation in a short period of time. “Base tanning” is also not safe, a tan is the way the body shows injury from UV rays.
“But what about vitamin D?” you may be wondering. Vitamin D is a vitamin that is naturally present in foods, but also produced internally when the body is exposed to UV rays from sunlight. Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium and also helps to maintain calcium and phosphate levels in the body. Calcium and phosphorus contribute to normal bone development and growth. Because of the sun’s harmful effects, it is much safer to think about getting vitamin D from what you eat. It is very hard to measure how much vitamin D each person will get from the sun because it varies with weather, altitude, etc.
Wishing you a happy and healthy summer, from Doctors’ Pediatric!