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Protecting Our Children’s Skin From Skin Cancer & Premature Aging

Posted on June 02 2015

My 5-year-old has what we like to call “sensitive skin.” It’s lily-white, soft, and so translucent, it nearly glows. She has a scar on her nose that needs extra care. And after 15 minutes of recess without sunscreen, she’s as red as lobster.


At school, kids learn about brushing their teeth, eating well, and exercising, but sun protection rarely makes an appearance. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for people in their 20s, and the damage, which is entirely preventable, typically occurs during childhood.

Sadly, over the past 35 years, the rate of new melanoma cases among American adults has tripled.  2 million Americans develop skin cancer each year. And much of the damage can occur during childhood; a single case of blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles the risk of melanoma.

Last summer, I attended a lecture by Dr. Ellen Marmur, a leading dermatologist, and Dr. Anna Pavlick, Director of NYU’s Melanoma Program. Here are a few of Dr. Pavlick’s startling statistics:

  • 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer
  • Cancer risk doubles if someone has had more than 5 sunburns.
  • One or more blistering sunburns during childhood doubles melanoma risk.

I’ve made it part of my life’s work to prevent the next generation from repeating my mistakes.  When it comes down to it, sun protection should be as routine as wearing a seat belt.

Here are a few simple ways to help develop sun safety habits for our children, and they’re great to remember for everyone throughout life.

1. Use the right quantity of sunscreen.

Of course the application of sunscreen is a no-brainer. But it’s also important to understand what sunscreen is, how to use it, and how to read the label. If you think you have put on enough, put on more. Layer the sunscreen like two coats of paint. If not applied heavily, the actual SPF achieved could be 1/3 of the labeled SPF.

2. How much SPF is enough? Is a higher SPF better?

The SPF of a sunscreen tells you two things: HOW LONG you can stay in the sun and how well the formula filters the sun’s rays. SPF stands for “sun protection factor” and refers to the theoretical amount of time you can stay in the sun without getting sunburned. For example, an SPF of 30 would allow you to stay in the sun 30 times longer than you could without protection; in other words, it’s meant to be relative to the amount of time you, personally, can spend in the sun.

Now how well the formula filters the sun rays goes as follow:

  • SPF 15 blocks about 95% of UVB ray
  • SPF 30 Blocks about 97% of UVB Rays

Above SPF 30, the increased percentage protection is minimal. SPF higher than 50 has been shown to offer minimal additional protection compared to sunscreens with SPF 50 and under.

3. What does UVA and UVB protection mean?

UVB rays cause sunburns and UVA rays are responsible for skin cancer and premature aging. Therefore, it is important that you use both – and a sunscreen that claims broad-spectrum protection. A sunscreen must meet broad-spectrum testing which measures the UVA protection in relation to the UVB protection in a product. Only sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer or premature aging of the skin.

4. Re-Apply. Re-Apply. Re-Apply.

How frequently you put sunscreen on is key to protecting your child. Sunscreen absorbs UV radiation by converting it into heat. Once the sunscreen has been converted, it dissipates and has no more protection. Sunscreens can no longer state that they provide more than two hours of protection unless approved as such by the FDA.

5. Know your ingredients

Have you noticed the lack of the word “sunblock” on the shelves lately? Sunscreens can no longer be labeled as “sunblocks” because it simply is not true. Sunscreens absorb UV radiation and dissipate it, whereas sunblock would reflect it like tin foil would.

Better UV protection and healthier ingredients make the sunscreens of today not only effective but safer to use. Zinc oxide is the leading filter for UVA and UVB rays (and even UVC rays). It is considered the most safe and effective active available. As a single ingredient, it protects against all rays and sits on top of the skin to form a formidable barrier. It doesn’t penetrate the skin if non-nano and deemed the safest choice of sunscreen by the Environmental Working Group.

Titanium dioxide. Another mineral ingredients, also helps scatter and reflect UV rays like a layer of armor. These mineral ingredients are the key to safe and effective sun protection.

6. Understand water resistance.

If your child is swimming, look for a water-resistant formula that either states 40 or 80 minutes of resistance in water. Labels can no longer say “waterproof” or “sweat proof” because it simply is not true. Reapplication is key, even if you have to pull the kids out of the water for a break to make it happen.

7. Use hats and sunglasses.

Just like adults, children should be in hats and sunglasses when outside. I put a hat and sunglasses by the door so they can just grab them, but I’m constantly reminding my kids to remember them.

8. Use clothing for coverage, but know its limits.

A basic white t-shirt has an SPF of 5. Clothing doesn’t necessarily protect, especially if it’s old, stretched or wet. UV protective fabrics are great, but they have to be washed carefully to maintain their protective capability. Some fabrics lose their UV protectiveness when washed. Always put sunscreen under your child’s bathing suit.

9. Look for the shady spots.

Help lobby for camps, schools and public playgrounds to create more shady spots for play. Encourage your kids to seek out the shady spots during peak hours.

10. Avoid peak sun time.

This is very difficult with active children, but try to stay out of the direct sun at peak sun times, which is roughly from 10am-4pm.

11. Avoid Tanning Beds

Did you know that just one tanning bed session increases your chances of getting melanoma by 75%? Tanning beds are easily accessible, always available and especially appealing to teens.  The American Medical Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Academy of Dermatology, The Skin Cancer Foundation, and The World Health Organization have all called on every state to ban children under 18 from using tanning salons.

12. Be Extra Careful on “Sunburst” vacations

You know the story. You work inside all the time, and then get to a sunny hotspot for a vacation when you can. These getaways can result in major sun damage, especially because our skin doesn’t have time to get used to the sun. Be extra careful on vacation, and always make sure our families are protected.

A Transformation with Suncare

The healthy tan seems like a past phenomenon. Now, the sunscreen market is booming and manufactures are reacting by producing innovative products which combine effective skin and  sun protection ingredients. We know the ozone layers has depleted and the sun’s rays are more intense than ever.  So lather up with all the amazing products on the markets – from wipes to lotions to sprays – and have a healthy summer!


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