Most of us didn’t need the calendar to flip to June 20th to herald in the start of summer.  School is out.  Water parks are open.  Camp is in session and that sweltering Texas sun is high in the sky. 

While summer always serves a great reminder to refresh on appropriate sun protection, I hope many of you realize that this “sun protection” idea is a year-round thing.  Having already seen the damage those sun rays can cause in my office this year, please take a minute to make sure you know the facts and are protecting your children and yourself appropriately. 

Did you know that approximately 80 percent of your lifetime sun exposure occurs before you are 18 years old?  One of the hardest jobs a pediatrician has to do is diagnose a child with a serious condition and know deep down it was somewhat preventable. 

Sadly, from 1973-2009 we have seen the rates of pediatric melanoma increase on average of 2 percent per year.[1] Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, does have a high survival rate if detected early, but as you can read in Brandi’s story, melanoma that has metastized (spread) can have a grave prognosis.  Over and over again, childhood sun exposure and exposure that leads to blistering sunburns have been linked to increased risk of developing melanoma later in life. 

“But Dr. Anna, I put sunscreen on my kids and they still got burned!”  While sunscreen is a main player in our sun protection tool kit, it is important to battle the sun from all angles.

  1. Make sure your sunscreen offers both UVA and UVB protection.   While sunburns are primarily caused by UVB radiation, it is the UVA radiation that damages deeper layers of the skin and also contributes to skin cancer.  As of 2012, the FDA regulates sunscreen labeling and thus look for a sunscreen labeled “Broad Spectrum” with at least an SPF of 30.
  2. Check the date. Yes, sunscreen can expire.
  3. No more false promises.  With the new FDA regulations, sunscreens can no longer advertise as “waterproof” or “sweatproof.” Sunscreens can now only be labeled “water resistant” and must indicate time of effectiveness while swimming or sweating (either 40 or 80 min).  Then it is time to reapply, with maximum reapplication time being 2 hours for adequate protection.
  4. Add a layer between your skin and the sun.  Clothes should have a tight weave, one that only lets in little light when held up to a lamp or window.  Keep in mind, wet clothing is not an effective light barrier, so perhaps invest in a swim shirt for both boys and girls.  A wide brim hat also helps protect the top of the head, ears, and shades the face.
  5. Avoid it all together.   For infants less than 6 months old, it is recommended to keep them out of direct sunlight.  If they are going to be exposed, protect them in long sleeved, light-weight clothing.  For sun exposed areas of skin, apply a small amount of non-chemical sunscreens with physical blockers. Look for ingredients such as titanium dioxide or zinc dioxide.  For older children, minimize sun exposure during 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is its most intense.
  6. Know your surroundings. Use extra caution near water and sand (and even snow!) as they reflect UV rays and may result in sunburn more quickly.
  7. Become an advocate.  Get involved in your community and advocate for sun-shaded playground equipment and pools.  Make it “cool” to wear sun protective clothing and help change attitudes about “getting that summer tan.”

[1] Wang, J.R. et al. “US Childhood and Adolescent Melanoma Incidence: 1973-2009”. Pediatrics. May 2013. Volume 131, Number 5. Pg 846

Anna Nezafati,M.D., is board certified and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She joins David Goff, M.D., Susan Torrie, M.D., and Jeffrey Day, M.D. in the Cook Children’s South Denton office. In her free time, Dr. Nezafati enjoys spending time with her husband and puppy. They love trying new restaurants, traveling and spending time with family and friends. To make an appointment with Dr. Nezafati, call 940-565-1510.

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