Considered the most prevalent cancer today with more than one million new cases diagnosed each year in adults and children, skin cancer is also considered the most preventable—approximately 90 percent of cases—when proper sun protection is practiced consistently. Unfortunately, most parents do not know how to properly protect themselves or their children from the sun's harmful rays.
"Excessive sun exposure during childhood significantly increases a person's risk of skin cancer," comments William E. Freeman, MD, dermatologist and member of Houston Healthcare's medical staff. "For a child, one sunburn can double their risk for developing melanoma later as an adult."
Tips for Proper Sunscreen Application
Apply sunscreen when the UV Index is 2 or higher.
Use an SPF of 15 or higher for limited exposures and an SPF of 30 or higher for prolonged or intense sun exposures.
Wear broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect against UVA and UVB exposures. Ingredients that include titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or Parasol 1689 provide excellent broad spectrum protection.
Sunscreen should be applied thickly; adults require one ounce, or a handful, per application, and children require half an ounce.
Write BEENS on your sunscreen bottle to remind you to apply sunscreen to the Backs of knees, Ears, Eye area, Neck and Scalp. Apply sunscreen before going outside to insure protection and to cover border areas under bathing suit straps and waistbands.
Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours during prolonged exposures or after swimming or heavy perspiration.
Sunscreen should NOT be used to increase your sun exposure time.
Skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma are caused by overexposure to both natural and artificial ultraviolet (UV) light through sunburn or tanning. Due to continued depletion of the earth's ozone layer, American children are experiencing higher rates of repeat and severe sunburns each summer than previous generations.
"Anyone can get skin cancer, but a child's skin and eye color, their tendency to freckle, as well as the number of moles they have on their skin and their family history are all factors that increase their chances for developing skin cancer," explains Dr. Freeman.
Another area of concern is the overexposure to artificial UV light from indoor tanning beds, particularly in teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 16.
"Despite advertising, there is no such thing as a 'safe tan'," adds Dr. Freeman. "In addition to sunburn and the risk of skin cancer, with tanning beds you also risk burning your corneas, developing cataracts on your eyes, skin infections and photoaging your skin."
Developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Weather Service, the UV Index is used to predict the intensity of ultraviolet radiation levels from low (Level One) to extreme (Level 11 and higher) with recommended sun precautions for the different UV levels. These precautions include wearing sunglasses, sunscreens, protective clothing, and avoiding the sun altogether.
"Parents should learn to pay attention to the UV Index each day to protect their children and themselves from the harmful effects of the sun," says Dr. Freeman. "When the UV level is high, avoid doing outdoor activities in the middle of the day or use a portable shade and wear protetive clothing and sunscreen."
According to Dr. Freeman, parents need to educate themselves about the proper use of sunscreen and the different levels of SPF, or sun protection factor, available.
"Proper sunscreen application is the only way to achieve the SPF rating indicated by the manufacturer," he explains. "Most people apply significantly less than the amount needed and at the wrong time to achieve the appropriate level of sun protection indicated. Adults should apply one ounce and children half an ounce at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and reapply every two hours or after swimming or heavy perspiration."
When choosing a sunscreen, parents should consider the SPF rating, the spectrum of protection offered against UVA and/or UVB rays, the method of application such as spray or lotion, and how water resistant the formula is, advises Dr. Freeman.
"The ideal sunscreen is a water-resistant lotion rated SPF 15 or higher with broad-spectrum protection because it protects the skin from both UVA and UVB radiation and will maintain its SPF longer during swimming or heavy exercising," he adds.
Dr. Freeman also advises parents to include sunglasses and protective clothing as part of their child's sun protection routine.
"Sunglasses should be used by everyone to protect their eyes from UV damage and help prevent cataracts, macular degeneration, and ocular melanoma. Appropriate sunglasses should provide broad-spectrum protection and block at least 99 percent of the UV rays," he says. "Protective clothing such as wide-brim hats, T-shirts or clothes with built in SPF protection is also an excellent way to protect your skin from sunburn and sun damage."