Ultraviolet light exposure is dangerous. UV light radiation (UVR) exposure is the most important risk factor you can manage to decrease your risk of melanoma. Melanoma cases are increasing. In the year 2011 it is estimated almost 9,000 people died from melanoma. Studies have shown that recurrent sunburns and sunburns at a young age place you at highest risk for developing melanoma. The risk for melanoma later in life doubles if there is a history of a single sun burn during childhood.
There have been numerous education programs in schools, in doctor’s office and in the media but children and adolescents have not changed their habits. Children and adolescents continue to report sun burn episodes and are not wary of the proven life threatening risks. Most adults are much more aware of the risks and willing to curtail UVR exposure to decrease their risk. The younger age groups do not look at the long terms risks. Due to their age they feel immortal and are preferentially influenced by short term social, behavioral and brain mediated benefits. Many adolescents seek a “tan”. They are not interested in spray on tan options. They seek the social benefits and enjoy the sensation of well-being they feel from a tanning session or lying in the sun. New studies support the activation of centers in the brain that are normally activated by addictive substances including cigarettes and alcohol.
It is imperative that all children and adolescent, not just those with fair skin be protected. Try to avoid the highest periods of midday sun exposure and avoid behaviors, such as tanning beds that further increase UVR exposure. Parents need to emphasize the importance of safe skin care. The routine use of products that block both kinds of cancer causing rays is essential. UVA and UVB protection both are needed. SPF numbers in the past only reflected UVB protection. The FDA has recently released new rules for sunscreen. The new rules list “broad spectrum” coverage as applying to both UVA and UVB protection. UVA penetrates the skin deeply and causes wrinkles. UVB is the type that causes sunburn. Both cause cancer. The FDA has also replaced the word waterproof with water resistant (40 minutes) or water resistant (80 minutes). This supports the need to reapply protection frequently.
Always apply enough sunscreen to cover all exposed areas of skin. Try to apply 1-2 ounces of sunscreen every 2 hours and wear clothes that provide high SPF protection. All clothing screens out some sun but darker colors and a tighter weave protect you more than others. You can increase the UV-blocking capability of any washable garment by using a laundry aid like SunGaurd that can boost a clothing items protection manifold. Sunglasses that block 99-100% of UVA and UVB are also a must and should be worn all day even though light hits the eyes more directly in the morning and the afternoon.