why is it important to use sunscreen?
Sunscreens provide some protection by blocking the sun's rays from the skin. Their sun protection factor (SPF) indicates the level of protection they provide. The higher the SPF, the greater the protection against harmful sun rays. But no sunscreen totally blocks the sun's rays. Even people wearing high SPF sunscreens get some exposure. To minimize the damage:
- Use water-resistant sunscreens that help protect skin from both UVA and UVB rays and that have SPF numbers of at least 15 (SPF 50 is the maximum).
- Apply sunscreen liberally (at least one large handful) about 30 minutes before going outside. No matter what sunscreen product is used, reapply it after swimming, toweling, or any vigorous activity that causes heavy perspiration. Toweling off can remove even water-resistant sunscreens.
- Talk with camp counselors and others with child-care responsibilities about reapplying sunscreens after children play hard, perspire or swim.
- Remember to apply sunscreen to children's skin even when they are under a beach umbrella. The sun's rays can reflect off surrounding concrete or sand.
Sun-protective clothing also protects children from the negative effects of the sun. Sun-protective fabrics differ from typical summer fabrics in several ways. Sun-protective fabrics typically have a tighter weave or knit, and usually are darker in color. Garments made with these fabrics generally have a label listing the garment's ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), that is, the level of protection the garment provides from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. The higher the UPF, the greater the UV protection.
The UPF rating indicates how much of the sun's UV radiation the fabric absorbs. For example, a fabric with a UPF rating of 20 allows 1/20th of the sun's UV radiation to pass through it. This means that this fabric will reduce your skin's UV radiation exposure by 20 times where it's protected by the fabric.
Garments with a rating over UPF 50 may be labeled UPF 50+; however, these garments may not offer substantially more protection than those with a UPF of 50. Also, a garment should not be labeled "sun-protective" or "UV-protective" if its UPF is less than 15. In addition, sun-protective clothing may lose its effectiveness if it's too tight or stretched out, damp or wet, and has been washed and worn repeatedly.
protecting kids from sunburn
To help protect children from the sun's damaging effects:
- Remember that the sun's rays are strongest from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., especially during the late spring and summer. Reflected glare from water and snow also can increase your exposure to UV radiation. Schedule children's outdoor activities accordingly.
- Dress children for maximum protection. Hats with brims and tightly woven, long-sleeved shirts and pants offer the best defense. Look for the UPF to ensure sufficient protection.
- Select sunglasses that help screen out both UVA and UVB rays. UV rays may contribute to the development of cataracts. Sunglasses that are close-fitting and have big lenses offer more protection.
- Keep babies younger than six months out of the sun. Sunscreens may irritate baby skin, and an infant's developing eyes are especially vulnerable to sunlight.
- Teenagers who work outside as lifeguards, gardeners or construction workers may be at special risk for skin damage, and need adequate protection before going out in the sun. Try to discourage teens from going to tanning parlors. Like the sun, tanning devices can damage the skin and eyes.
When at the beach or pool, cover exposed areas with tightly woven clothing and wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your head and face. If you're a parent, protect your children's skin; research indicates that one or more severe, blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence can double the risk of skin cancer later in life.
what is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in this country. Medical experts diagnose it more frequently every year, especially in young people. Experts believe too much sun exposure in the early years may be responsible for the increase in skin cancer.
Two types of skin cancer basal cell and squamous cell, usually are treatable if detected early. Basal cell often develops on the face, ears, lips and around the mouths of fair-skinned people. Squamous cell usually appears as a scaly patch or raised, wart-like growth.
Melanoma, another type of skin cancer, is the most dangerous. It occurs anywhere on the body. Early detection is crucial for successful treatment, as melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of cancer.
Factors associated with increased risk of developing skin cancer include:
- several blistering sunburns as a child or teenager;
- a family history of skin cancer;
- light-colored skin, hair and eyes;
- moles that are irregular in shape or color.
who is most at risk for skin damage from the sun?
Take extra care to protect babies and children from the sun. Studies show that one or more severe, blistering sunburns as a child or teenager could increase the risk for melanoma, an often fatal form of skin cancer.
You need to be especially careful in the sun if you:
- have fair skin; blond, red, or light brown hair
- have blue, green, or gray eyes
- have freckles and burn before tanning
- spend a lot of time outdoors
- were previously treated for skin cancer
- have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
- work indoors all week and then try to catch up on your tan on weekends
- live or vacation at high altitudes (ultraviolet radiation from the sun increases 4 to 5 percent for every 1,000 feet above sea level)
- live or vacation close to the equator
- have certain diseases, such as lupus erythematosus
- take certain medicines, including:
- acne medicines
- antibiotics, such as tetracyclines
- oral contraceptives containing estrogen
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as naproxen sodium
- phenothiazines (major tranquilizers and anti-nausea drugs)
- sulfa drugs
- tricyclic antidepressants
- thiazide diuretics
- sulfonylureas, such as oral anti-diabetics
Ask your doctor about the risk of any medicines you may be taking that could be harmful to you when you are in the sun.
for more information
To learn more about skin cancer or skin damage, contact your family doctor, dermatologist, or:
Cancer Information Service (CIS) 1-800-4-CANCER www.cis.nci.nih.gov
American Cancer Society (ACS) 1-800-ACS-2345 www.cancer.org
American Academy of Dermatology P.O. Box 4014 Schaumburg, IL 60168-4014 www.aad.org
Excerpted from Office of Cosmetics and Colors Fact Sheet, June 27, 2000: Sunscreens, Tanning Products and Sun Safety.
Excerpted from FDA Consumer, June 1996: Seven Steps to Safer Sunning.
While the information published here is meant to be accurate, it is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your physician or local medical facility for information specific to your individual needs. We urge that you check with your physician before undertaking any course of action and recommend that you always follow the advice and recommendations of your health practitioner.
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