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Skin cancer is a growing concern among parents these days. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are more than one million skin cancers diagnosed each year. Most parents have heard the statistics: 65% of melanoma cancers can be attributed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, and 90% of nonmelanoma cases can be attributed to UV rays.
Thirty and forty years ago, parents were less informed about the damaging effects of UV rays. Today, however, the message is clear: overexposure can cause skin cancer.
So, how do parents balance sun safety and their children’s insatiable energy for playing outdoors? Charlotte Hendricks, president of Healthy Childcare Consultants and a board member of the Sun Safety Alliance, says there are a lot of actions parents can take to protect their children from the sun. “Children need to be active outdoors,” she says. “And they need to be protected.”
Suntan lotion, hats, sunglasses, protective clothing, and water for hydration are all necessary to keep children protected while playing outdoors. But most parents second guess their understanding of the
rules. What number sunscreen? What brand? How often do you reapply it?
Jeff Ashley, M.D., is a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California. He also is the President and Founder of Sun Safety for Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the incidence of skin cancer through teaching and promoting sun protection to children. Ashley provides answers to some common questions about sun protection:
As a general rule, how much time each day should children be allowed to play outdoors during the summer months?
Ashley: There’s really no time limit so long as children are adequately protected from the elements, including the sun’s UV radiation. Because sunscreen wears off, it is commonly recommended that it be reapplied at least every two hours during continuous outdoor exposure.
Should parents avoid sending their kids outside over the noon hour?
UV rays are strongest at solar noon, usually close to 1 p.m. during daylight savings time-so, that’s when sun protection is most important. When there’s a choice, it’s safer to be outdoors before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., but that’s not always practical or possible. The best defense against overexposure during midday is to cover as much area of skin as possible with lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, wear a broad brimmed hat, wear UV-blocking sunglasses, and apply sunscreen to any non-covered areas of skin.
What number sunscreen should children wear? Does it differ for children of different ages?
All people, including children, should use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, preferably 30 or higher. SPF relates to the product’s ability to block UVB rays. One reason for going higher is because most people don’t put on enough to achieve the SPF, or because it comes off due to time elapsed, rubbing, sweating, swimming, and so forth. Within the next couple of years, the FDA will require sunscreen manufacturers to also label their products according to their ability to block UVA rays. At this time, consumers should at least check that the product claims to block UVA.
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