Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. Up to one in five Americans will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer during their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.
Just a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life. Taking simple steps now can go a long way toward protecting your child.
Start with the basics.
* Avoid the sun during peak hours, generally between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M.
* Wear protective clothing. Consider investing in sun-protective clothing or using a hat or umbrella for shade.
* Use sunscreen. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every one to two hours.
Two main types of sunscreen categories exist: physical and chemical protection products. Sunscreens contain filters that either reflect the sun or absorb harmful UV rays. Sun protection factor (SPF) measures how well the sunscreen deflects UVB rays. Manufacturers calculate SPF based on how long it takes to sunburn skin that has been treated with the sunscreen as compared with skin that hasn’t been treated with sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 or higher.
Just what is the UV index that weather forecasters often mention? The ultraviolet index (UV index) is a measurement of the strength of ultraviolet light, rated 1 to 11+, that can cause sunburn. The EPA provides guidance on the level of protection or sun avoidance you should seek based on each number of the index.
Guidelines for sunscreen labeling were updated by the Food and Drug Administration in 2011 so products could no longer be advertised as waterproof, but water-resistant instead.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sunscreen is fine to use on babies older than six months of age. You should protect younger babies with other forms of sun protection — such as hats, umbrellas or avoiding placing them in the sun altogether.
Choose a type of sunscreen that you can apply with ease and that can be tolerated. To avoid irritating the skin and eyes of children ages six months or older, consider using a sunscreen that contains only inorganic filters, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — but preferably both. Zinc and titanium ingredients physically block the sun’s UV rays from being absorbed by the skin and, most importantly, may be applied without irritation or stinging. The sensitive skin of babies and children is easily irritated by chemicals in adult sunscreens, so avoid sunscreens with para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and benzophenones such as dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone.
* You should apply sunscreen generously on dry skin before swimming.
* Creams or lotions are best for the first application. Sprays often are lost in a blowing breeze, leaving important areas unprotected.
* Reapply sunscreen hourly while swimming or sweating heavily, every two hours when dry.
* Vacations often involve swimming/sweating and spotty reapplication in the sun. Starting your day with a higher SPF sunscreen will give you a wider protective window during busy activities.
* If you have dry skin, you might prefer a cream sunscreen. For acne-prone skin, oil-free sunscreens are widely available.
* Since UV light can pass through clouds, use sunscreen even when it’s cloudy or overcast.
* Avoid using products that combine sunscreen and the insect repellent DEET, since sunscreen must be reapplied regularly and insect repellent typically should not be reapplied at that frequency.
Tanning Beds Are Bad News
While tanning beds promise a bronzed body year-round, the ultraviolet (UV) radiation from these devices pose serious, permanent risks for skin cancer, including melanoma. The 2009 International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has recommended banning commercial indoor tanning for those under 18 years to protect them from the increased risk for melanoma and other skin cancers. The FDA has also noted a 75-percent greater risk of melanoma if indoor tanning began prior to the age of 35. Alternatives to tanning beds include bronzing creams and dusting powders, which are widely available at most drugstores.
Protect your body’s largest organ — your skin— while having fun in the sun.
Christi Cantu, CPNP, is a PNP who has worked for Pediatric Dermatology of North Texas for 10 years, and has had an advanced practice role for over 18 years in pediatric and neonatal nursing. She is Associate Clinical Professor-PNP Program-University of Texas at Arlington and Texas Women’s University.