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Beyond the Basics of Sun Safety

(Chester County Moms - July 20, 2012)

Okay, we are going to start off here by stating the obvious ... IT IS SUMMER AND YOU NEED TO PROTECT YOUR SKIN. There, we said it. We can assume all the moms are rolling their eyes like teenagers after that stunning directive. So, instead of telling you what you already know ... like apply sunscreen generously, wear protective clothing, seek shade especially between the peak hours of 10 am and 4 pm, avoid tanning beds, yada yada yada ... we did some digging and found some things you might not know about sun safety. Keep this information in your parenting arsenal, so that when your teens roll their eyes at your insistence to slather on the sunblock, you have something more substantial to offer than "because I said so."

Scary Skin Cancer Facts - More than 1.2 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S., according to the Sun Safety Alliance. An estimated one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. "Skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer in our society with more than 1 million new cases annually. Skin cancer is becoming more common in children and accounts for approximately 4% of pediatric malignancies. It is estimated that 90% of all skin cancers are preventable." [The ABCs of Sun Protection for Children - Dermatology Nursing]

The Distant Dangers of Childhood Sunburns - A child's lifetime risk of developing skin cancer can double after just one "blistering" sunburn. On average, kids get 3x more UV exposure than adults. Continual sun damage and sunburns especially in the first 18 years of life can result in dry, wrinkly skin and possibly skin cancer in adulthood.

  • Children six months or younger should be kept out of the sun (rather than using sunscreen on their young skin).
  • For children older than 6 months, apply a sunblock with an SPF 30 or higher.
  • Older children should use a sunscreen SPF 15 or higher.
  • Adults should use at least an SPF 15 sunblock.

Ultraviolet Ray (UV) Index - The UV Index is a numerical scale that rates the next-day forecast of the amount of skin-damaging UV radiation from the sun expected to reach the Earth's surface when the sun is its highest in the sky. The range goes from 0 (very low) to 10+ (very high). The higher the number, the greater the strength of the sun's UV rays. Here is a link to the Environmental Protection Agency website to find the local UV Index: http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html.

  • UVA: These rays are more constant year-round and penetrate deeper into the skin's layers. They contribute to burning, premature aging of the skin, and the development of certain forms of skin cancer. Exposure to UVA rays is greatest from May to August, but these rays reach the Earth's surface 365 days/year.
  • UVB: These rays are the primary cause of sun burning, premature aging of the skin and the development of skin cancer.
  • UVC: The ozone layer blocks UVC rays, and they do not reach the earth's surface.

Sunscreen and Sunblock - The role of sunscreen is to absorb, reflect or scatter damaging UV rays before they interact with the skin. It should be applied to dry skin about 30 minutes before going outside.

  • "Sunblock" is a term used by manufacturers to describe sunscreens that provide an SPF 12 or higher.
  • "Sweatproof, Water-resistant and Waterproof" indicate that the product provides protection after 40 minutes of water exposure, but it is important to reapply immediately after coming out of the water. Reapplication is recommended every two hours during long stints outdoors, after swimming and heavy sweating.
  • There are two types of sunscreen: chemical and barrier. Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that absorb UV light before it can cause skin damage. Whereas, barrier sunscreens create a reflective surface on the skin that reflects the light.

Family Medicine physician Dr. Shannon Lieb says, "In my opinion, I would choose barrier sunblock over the chemical variety since it is very effective in blocking both UVB and UVA sun rays. The active ingredients in barrier sunscreens are zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide."

SPF - The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) represents a ratio of how much longer a person wearing sunscreen can stay in the sun before burning, as compared to someone not wearing any sunscreen. SPF numbers usually range from 2 to 50.

  • SPF only indicates the level of protection against UVB, but not UVA rays. Currently, there's no standard for measuring UVA protection.
  • For the best protection against the sun, look for products that offer "Broad-spectrum Protection" against UVA and UVB.
  • By comparison, summer clothing typically provides a low SPF between 2 and 7.

Dr. Lieb says her patients often ask, 'Does a higher SPF mean the best protection?' "Not necessarily," she says. "An SPF 50 only provides 1-2% more protection than an SPF 30."

Speed of the Burn - As the UV Index rises, it takes less time to burn.http://www.sunsafetyalliance.org/sunburn.html)

  • When the UV Index is very low (0-2), it would take about 60 minutes to get a sunburn without sunscreen. Even though that seems like a long time, it is important to use sunscreen, wear sunglasses and use sunscreen of 15 or higher on those days.
  • When the UV Index reaches 7-10, grab your hat and glasses, increase the SPF to 30 and stay in the shade, because you can burn in about 15 minutes.
  • When in the UV index is 10+, you can burn in less than 10 minutes; do all of the above, plus raise the SPF to 45 and stay out of the sun during peak hours. (

Skin Type - All people should apply sunscreen liberally, evenly and often. The shade of your skin does not matter. People of all races can get sunburn and need to protect their skin. Recent statistics have shown that while those individuals with lighter skin tone have a higher incidence of skin cancer, those with a darker skin tone have a significantly lower survival rate once diagnosed.

Unintentional Sun Exposure - For the average person, incidental time spent in the sun during every day activities is projected to account for 80% of his or her lifetime exposure. For this reason, dermatologists emphasize the need to protect the skin with clothing or a sunscreen SPF 15 or above on a daily basis all year long. Remember, snow, sand and pavement reflects UV and can double the UV exposure.

ABCDE Skin Check - Thoroughly examine your skin every few months. Look for any changes in the size, color, texture or shape of a mole or other dark spot. Look for any new, abnormal moles; or bleeding from a mole. Look for any unusual bumps or growths on your face, ears, arms, chest and back. Show your physician or a dermatologist as soon as possible. Look for...

  • Asymmetry (one side doesn't match the other)
  • Border irregularity (edges are irregular, ragged or blurred)
  • Color variation (tans, browns, black, white, reds, blues)
  • Diameter larger than a pencil eraser (6mm)
  • Elevation above the skin and uneven surface

Share Your Knowledge - Teach your children about sun safety throughout their lives. Just as you remind them to buckle up in the car or making healthy food choices, talk to them regularly about sun protection. Make a daily habit of applying sunblock as they are getting ready to head out the door in the morning throughout the year. Throw a travel tube in their backpack so they can reapply when you aren't with them.

Teaching kids how to protect their skin and why it is important is a life lesson that will affect them for the rest of their lives. They may roll their eyes as teens, but they'll be thanking you when they have healthy skin and fewer worries when they are adults!

Take the American Cancer Society's Sun Safety IQ Test


Shannon Lieb, MS, DO is trained in the specialty of Family Medicine. She takes her work seriously and strives to be thorough in caring for each and every patient. Dr. Lieb is a physician with Kennett Care Medical Associates.


http://www.sunsafetyalliance.org/docs/Maguire_DNJ_Dec_05.pdf
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/best-sunscreen/MY01350/

Last Updated: 9/18/2012