With our warmer winter and early spring, families are already spending time in the glorious Oklahoma sunshine. An important part of a healthy lifestyle is for children and adults to get outside to run, skate, bike, and play. But, don’t forget the sunscreen!
If you have been reading my blog for the last few years, you know that I am a stickler for sun protection. Every year I run my sun protection blog to remind families that, though we love our sunshine, we absolutely must protect our children and ourselves from its more dangerous UV (ultraviolet) rays. Even on overcast and cool days, time spent outdoors can result in painful sunburns and set us up for skin damage that can lead to skin cancers.
Sunburns occur when the ultraviolet rays of the sun damage the skin. Repeated damage can result in skin cancers, including the most dangerous form, melanoma. The skin remembers each burn and they all add up over time.
Unlike many other health problems, sunburns are easily preventable. By teaching your children sun-smart skills from an early age, you will be establishing good habits that will benefit them for a lifetime.
How much do you really know about sun protection? Here’s a little quiz to test your knowledge:
1. Dark-skinned children do not need sunscreen. True or false?
False. All children 6 months and older need sunscreen (it is not recommended to use sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months.) While the children most at risk for sunburn are those with lighter skin and eyes, and blonde or red hair, dark-skinned children also experience sun damage and do require sunscreen.
2. Getting a “base tan” at a tanning salon is a great idea because it acts as a sunscreen. True or false?
False. Tanning beds emit UV rays just like the sun and cause just as much skin damage. That “healthy” tan is really damaged skin. Teenagers especially need to be taught that the only safe tan is the kind you spray on, or spread on, from a bottle!
3. Sunscreen that is labeled “waterproof” does not need to be reapplied. True or false?
False. A waterproof sunscreen may stay on a little better than a non-waterproof variety, but it still needs to be reapplied after each towel down and/or every two hours. Additionally, most people don’t use enough sunscreen. About 35-45 cc, a little more than a shot glass full, is needed to adequately protect all exposed areas of skin. Do not forget to apply generously to the lips, ears and back of neck.
4. The best time to apply sunscreen is at least 30 minutes prior to leaving the house. True or false?
True. Most people make the mistake of applying sunscreen as they are walking out the door or, worse, once they get to their sunny destination. Sunscreen needs to be applied to dry skin 30 minutes prior to sun exposure to allow adequate time for it to soak into the skin.
5. It is safest to go out into the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. True or false?
False. The sun’s UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. It is the UV rays that cause skin damage. Remember, when your shadow is shorter than you are, protect your skin by staying in doors, staying in shaded areas or covering your skin with clothing or sunscreen.
6. I should not apply sunscreen to my kids since they need the sun for vitamin D production. True or false?
False. It is true that sunlight manufactures Vitamin D in our bodies, but getting it through intense rays of the summer sun is not a safe idea. Experts think a minimum amount of sunlight is needed to produce vitamin D, so daily activities in and out of the sun should be enough. My recommendation is to use sunscreen and supplement your child’s diet (and yours) with vitamin D-fortified foods such as milk, orange juice, yogurt, breakfast cereals and eggs.
7. The higher the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) the greater the sun protection and less often you need to reapply. True or false?
False. A higher SPF does give a higher sun protection, but not by that much. An SPF 15 gives 93% protection against UVB rays, while an SPF 30 gives 97% protection. Doubling the SPF only increases the protection by 5%. While most people can use SPF 15, those with very fair skin may want to use an SPF 30. If an SPF 30 blocks 97% of the sun’s rays, what are we paying for by using an SPF 50? Not a lot, according to experts, so save your money. Whatever the SPF, the key to sun protection is to reapply liberally.
8. I can save time and money by using a combination of sunscreen and insect repellent. True or false?
False. While combination products are a nice thought, insect repellent should be applied once every 24 hours, while sunscreen must be reapplied every two hours. You do the math! Additionally, insect repellent decreases the protection of sunscreen. If you do use a combination product, you still must reapply a sunscreen-only product every two hours.
9. Sunscreen is the only way to protect kids from the sun. True or false?
False. Wide-brimmed hats are great for protecting the head and neck, and sunglasses with UVA protection are important for the eyes. Additionally, long sleeves, cotton T-shirts and long pants will provide some protection. But remember, clothing only protects at the level of SPF 5-9 (even less when wet). So, it’s important to apply sunscreen under clothes.
Some clothing is sold as providing special sun protection, but new studies show that such clothing doesn’t actually protect any better than regular clothing, so save your money!
10. The best way to pick a sunscreen is by the pretty bottle or name brand. True or false?
This question is obviously false. The best sunscreen is water-resistant, with UVB and UVA protection, at least an SPF of 30, and one that has the American Association of Dermatologist (AAD) seal of recognition. However, if the sunscreen is generic, and meets all the criteria except the AAD seal of recognition, it may not be worth the difference in price. If your child has sensitive skin, a PABA-free sunscreen is better. When initially trying a new sunscreen, apply to a small area on the foot for 2-3 days to make sure your child tolerates it. If there is a reaction, stop using it immediately. Sometimes ingredients such as oxybenzone and dioxbenzone can cause problems, so make sure you read the label.