Don’t Forget the Sunscreen!

This blog post is brought to you by guest blogger Dr. Elizabeth Miller.  Dr. Miller received her medical degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and completed her residency in dermatology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.  She now works in a multi-specialty group in Austin, Texas, and sees patients of all ages.

Summer is quickly approaching and now is a good time to think about how you can protect your child’s skin from sun damage. We know that the sun damage accumulated as a child and young adult is an important risk factor for several types of skin cancer like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma in their adult life.  It’s never too early to start teaching your child about sun safety!

Here are a few tips for sun safety:

*Seek shade, especially between the hours of 10am-4pm when the sun’s rays are the strongest

 *Look for a sunscreen with an SPF 30-50

 *Look for “broad spectrum” on sunscreen labels (equal UVB and UVA protection)

 *Reapply every 2 hours-even the best sunscreen wears off and loses its effectiveness over time

 *Use sunscreen even on cloudy days. Up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays are transmitted through clouds!

 *There is no such thing as a “waterproof” sunscreen-reapply after swimming or toweling off

*Wear “rash guards” or other long sleeved swim tops. Broad brimmed hats are also a great way to block the sun, especially on kids with light colored or fine hair. These are becoming easier and easier to find at local stores like Target, but you can also buy them online from companies such as Coolibar. Don’t forget the sunglasses and lip balm with SPF!

 *There are many good brands and types of sunscreen are available, find one that you and your children like best. Spray sunscreens are especially good for kids, but make sure you apply enough—the skin should look wet when you spray it on and then you need to rub it in to make sure you have even coverage. If using a spray sunscreen on your child’s face, spray it on to your hand first and then rub on to your child’s face, never spray directly on their face. Avoid inhaling the sunscreen.

A bit of technical information on the two different types of sunscreens available:

Chemical sunscreens

 * These absorb the sun’s rays in the top layer of skin, preventing damage to the underlying skin

 *Advantages: rubs in easily, most common type of sunscreen available, good sun protection

 *Disadvantages: some people with very sensitive skin develop skin irritation with this type of sunscreen

 *Read the label, the “active ingredients” will have one or more of these sunscreen chemical


-Oxybenzone–>rarely people can become allergic to this sunscreen ingredient    and develop an itchy or painful rash (although this is not a dangerous rash)





Physical sunscreens

These sit on top of the skin and reflect the sun’s rays

 *Advantages: good for people with very sensitive skin, good sun protection

 *Disadvantages: a little more opaque, harder to rub in

 *Physical blocker active ingredients

-Titanium dioxide

-Zinc oxide

The dangers of tanning bed use:

Talk to your child about the dangers of tanning bed use. It is NEVER ok to use a tanning bed, even for special events or vacations

 *The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified tanning beds to be as carcinogenic (cancer causing) as cigarette smoking

 *There is a 75% increased risk of developing melanoma with tanning bed use

Even just 4 tanning bed sessions a year increases the risk of skin cancer by 11-15.  Melanoma is the second most common cancer in women between the ages of 20 and 35, and the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25 to 30

Elizabeth Miller, MD

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