Althea A. Fung


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Fun in the Sun with Sunscreen — North Shore-LIJ

Even though the summer is drawing to a close, it does not mean it’s time to throw out your sunscreen. An important part in skin cancer prevention and maintaining healthy skin is using sunscreen year round to protect your skin.

So, how do you know what sunscreen is right for your children?

The first step is to understand how to select the right sunscreen for you and your children.  Sunscreen’s effectiveness is represented by the sun protective factor (SPF), which should always be clearly labeled on the packaging. This number represents  the comparison of how much time it would take for your skin to burn when it is unprotected versus when it is covered by sunscreen.  For example, if a person normally starts to burn after 10 minutes of sun exposure, while wearing an adequate amount of SPF 30 sunscreen, theoretically it should take 30 times or 300 minutes to burn. 

SPF 30, when applied in adequate quantities and reapplied every two hours, should block 97 percent of the sun’s rays.  Most dermatologists recommend SPF 30 for children, teens and adults. Higher SPF numbers may be indicated for certain patients with skin conditions particularly susceptible to photodamage.  Equally important is the use of a “broad spectrum” sunscreen, which the product offers protection   from both types of the suns harmful rays - UVA and UVB. 
It is also important to note that sweat, water exposure, and amount of sunscreen applied lessen this actual number somewhat. So reapply throughout the day.

Use sunscreen all year round, particularly in areas that are exposed such as the face, hands and especially if your child is going to be exposed to the sun for an extended amount of time. Even if you are out playing in the snow with your children, sunscreen should be applied. 
While having a darker skin tone adds some sun protection benefit, children with a darker complexion are still susceptible to the dangers of the sun, including the development or sunburns, photodamage and skin cancers.

For parents and teens looking for a sun-kissed glow without the risk of wrinkles or cancer, there are a number of products on the market. Sunless tanners are available in creams, lotions and sprays.  Additionally, spray tans are available.  It is important to note however, that while the skin appears darker, it is not protected by the sun with these products and a broad spectrum sunscreen should still be utilized. The use of tanning beds is not recommended for anyone.

Skin cancer is a growing concern for adults and children in the United States. While skin cancer is still rare in children, the rate of melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer and one that is most common to develop in children – has increased by about 2 percent each year from 1973 to 2009 in American children from newborn to age 19, according to a study conducted by the National Cancer Institute.

Risk factors for skin cancer include having a history of multiple burns and family history. Always take a look at the moles and notice any new or changing growths on your child’s skin. These changes could be an indication that a doctor should be seen.  

The development of skin cancer is likely multifactorial.  While ultraviolet light definitely plays a role, other factors such as fair skin, a history of multiple burns, family history, increased number of moles, having weakened immune system, and history of exposure to certain chemicals or radiation, can all increase the likelihood of developing a malignancy.

If a parent or child finds a new mole or mark on their skin, it is important that they bring it to the attention of a physician.  While it can be quite normal for children to develop new moles and nevi, any lesion of concern should be addressed.

Do you know your ABC’s?

Practicing sun safety all year round is extremely important. Throughout the year, you should conduct head-to-toe exams of yourself and your child to indentify skin cancers early. Early detection of melanomas is vital to recovery and can be easy as your ABCs.

A – Asymmetry: if you draw a line through the mole the two halves will not match.]

B – Border: the borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.

C – Color: having multiple colors is another warning sign. A melanoma may present as brown, tan, black, red or even blue.

D – Diameter: melanomas are typically larger in diameter than a pencil eraser.

E – Evolving: any change in size, shape, color, elevation can mean danger.