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Sun Safety | Summer Skin Care

Fast Facts

One blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles the risk of developing skin cancer later in life, so it's crucial to make sure children are protected from the sun.

  • Skin cancer is the biggest long-term risk from sun exposure.
  • It can be hard to catch a sunburn in progress. Don’t wait for the red to appear before preventing sun exposure.
  • Use about one ounce of sunscreen, and reapply at least every two hours – more often if swimming or sweating.
  • It’s important for any child older than 6 months to use sunscreen. Children under 6 months of age should be kept out of the sun.

Did you know that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and in the U.S., approximately 5 million adults are treated each year for skin cancer of any kind? Too much exposure to sunlight and the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays can lead to premature aging, and more importantly, skin cancers like basal and squamous cell carcinomas. As we go about our daily lives, exposure to the sun is common, however, there are ways to protect ourselves and our children from the harmful overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. 

First, try to avoid direct, prolonged exposure to the sun during the times at which the sun’s rays are strongest and therefore the most harmful. In Arkansas, these times are between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

What are ultraviolet (UV) rays and what affects UV exposure?

There are two types of ultraviolet (UV) rays to know about with regard to sun safety. Both UV-A and UV-B rays can damage skin and cause skin cancer. UV-B rays have more energy and are a more dangerous type of UV light, however there are no safe UV rays and we should protect ourselves from both. 

The strengths of the UV rays reaching the ground (and us) is different based on a number of factors:

  • Time of day: UV rays are strongest in the middle of the day, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Seasons: UV rays are strongest during the spring and summer months
  • Cloud cover: The effect of clouds can vary, but UV rays can still penetrate through clouds to reach us on the ground
  • Reflective surfaces: UV rays can bounce off of surfaces like water, sand, snow, or pavement, increasing our exposure to UV rays

What level of SPF do I need?

Sunscreen is our first line of defense when we must be in the sun. Make sure to choose one that has at least an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30. Anything higher will still work, but anything lower is not recommended. It is important to follow the manufacturers guidelines to know how often to reapply the sunscreen, as some require reapplication as often as every 30 minutes. No sunscreen provides complete protection from the sun. 

While some are made to last through water and sweat, they still must be reapplied every so often. Don’t forget to protect your lips from the sun with a lip balm with SPF 30 also. The lips are often forgotten when it comes to sun protection. Also, do not forget to protect your scalp with either a hat or sunscreen made for the hair and scalp.

How can I protect my skin other than using sunscreen?

Other ways to protect yourself are with what you wear. Wearing sunglasses that have a UV protection factor are a good way to protect the eyes, which are another forgotten part of the body when it comes to skin cancer risks. Not all sunglasses are the same, so make sure the ones you choose are made to protect your eyes from the sun. 

You can also wear long sleeves and long pants. The thing to remember about these is that the fabric needs to be tightly woven. Loosely woven fabric, like that of cotton T-Shirts, are not going to be protective enough because the sun can go through it. There is a such thing as getting sunburned through clothes, and it is not fun. If you wear loosely woven fabric, make sure to still apply sunscreen. 

Another thing you can do is wear a hat. The best type of hat is one that has a wide brim and is tightly woven, such as a sun hat or bucket hat. Wearing hats like visors and baseball caps are okay, except the ears, neck, and top of the head are still exposed. Be sure to still use sunscreen with hats.
The last way to add extra protection when going outdoors is to seek shade. Try finding a tree or awning to stand under, or even bring your own umbrella when possible. Not only will this shield you from the sun, but it is also cooler in the shade.

Who’s most at risk for sunburn?

Sunburn increases the risk of skin cancer. The risk for sunburn increases for:

  • Persons with fair skin, blue eyes and red or blond hair
  • Persons taking some medications including sulfa drugs, tetracyclines and some diuretics
  • Persons exposed to industrial UV light sources
  • Persons exposed to excessive outdoor sunlight

Who's most at risk for skin cancer?

In general, skin cancer is less prevalent, and the incidence of new skin cancers is lower, among people of color. Among whites, the incidence of melanomas of the skin is 25.1 per 100,000, as compared to the incidence rates of melanomas of people of color at 0.8, 5.1, 1.2, and 4.2 for Black, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Hispanic populations, respectively (CDC, 2018).

However, skin-cancer morbidity and mortality rates can be higher among non-white racial and ethnic groups because skin cancer among these populations tends to be diagnosed at a later stage, and because of the lower incidence rates of new skin cancers, tend to be overlooked or missed entirely by healthcare professionals.

Are children more at risk for sun damage?

It is important to remember children when taking measures to protect your skin. According to the American Cancer Society, people receive up to 80 percent of their life’s total exposure to UV light by the age of 18. Start early in promoting a healthy attitude about sun protection for your kids.

Here are some everyday actions from the American Cancer Society you can take now to safeguard the children in your care against the dangers of the sun. Remember: Sun exposure occurs day after day, so think about protection from UV every day, even when it’s hazy or cloudy. 

Kids may look fine while playing in the sun, then develop a sunburn later in the day after sun exposure. Parents should use their judgment, seek shade whenever possible and make sure kids are wearing protective eyewear and a hat. Most importantly, make sure kids are protected by sunscreen. This means using enough sunscreen and reapplying as recommended.
  • Take care when planning your children’s activities. The best way to avoid UV exposure is to limit time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest.

  • Encourage children to play in the shade.

  • Whenever possible, plan outdoor activities so as not to be in the sun during the middle of the day.

  • When your children are outdoors, be sure their skin is protected. UV rays reflect off water, sand, snow and any light-colored surface, like concrete. UV rays also reach below the water’s surface.

  • Encourage your children to wear clothing that protects as much skin as possible from the sun. Make it fun to wear hats that completely shade their faces, necks and ears. To protect arms, legs and body, choose comfortable clothing made of tightly woven fabrics that you can’t see through when held up to the light. Dark colors provide more protection than light colors.

  • Use sunscreen every day on skin that is not protected by clothing or a hat. Choose a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Sunscreen is not recommended for children less than 6 months old. Keep infants in the shade and covered up with comfortable clothing

Please remember these summer skin protection tips when you or your children head outdoors this summer. It is important to take care of yourself and stay healthy and safe so you can have a fun summer.

For more information about skin cancer and summer skin care read our publication on Skin Cancer.

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