Time for Fun (and Safety) in the Sun!

We have been blessed with some truly beautiful days here of late here in the North State. Definitely time to get out and enjoy all of the wonderful activities that our area has to offer.

A little sun is a great thing. It warms us, helps our skin manufacture vitamin D and gives us fun in the park in the garden or on the lake. However, too much sun can be harmful, both in the short and long terms. If you’ve ever had a sunburn, you now it is no fun. If you’ve ever accidentally let a baby or toddler get sunburned, you are aware of the couple of sleepless nights that followed. Most people are aware that too much sun can increase your risk for developing skin cancer.

So safe sun exposure is important for everyone, but particularly for our children. Young children can burn more readily than older ones. Even more importantly, there is a direct correlation between the amount of sun exposure and sunburns one has, by age, to the risk of skin cancer. That is, the younger you are when you get excessive sun exposure or sunburns, the more it increases your skin cancer risk as you age.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the rate of skin cancer, including malignant melanoma (the most serious kind) is rising, even in young people. There is evidence that as few as six severe sunburns in a lifetime can increase the risk of skin cancer 50%. In fact, that the current thinking is that there is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan is actually the skin’s reaction to sun induced radiation damage. Tanning over time can lead to wrinkles, freckles, skin texture changes or worst of all skin cancer.

In general, people get about 80% of their sun exposure in the first 18 years of life. A dermatology survey in 2003 of 10,000 american kids age 12 to 18 showed that less than 35% regularly used sunscreen on sunny days and 83% had had at least one sunburn within the year. This is, of course, a real set up for skin problems as these children age.

New AAP guidelines were published in March of this year in the journal Pediatrics. These guidelines gave a call for parents and caregivers step up skin cancer prevention in our nations children. Specific recommendations include:

Have children wear proper clothing and hats when outdoors.
Time outdoor activities to minimize peak midday sun between 10AM and 4PM.
Apply at least SPF 30 sunscreen regularly and reapply every 2-3 of hours while outside.
Have children wear appropriate sunglasses.
Children under 6 months of age should always be kept out of direct sunlight and be protected from the sun with clothing and hats.

One recent national survey showed that 24% of caucasian teenagers between age 13 and 19 had used a tanning bed at least once. Tanning beds are just as dangerous to the skin as the sun itself. The AAP has actually proposed legislation that would prohibit access to tanning salons or artificial tanning devices under age 18.

It is a good idea for parents to take a look at their children’s moles or freckles every couple of months.If you notice any of the “ABCDE’s” - asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation, increasing diameter or evolving (change in) a mole or freckle, have your pediatrician or a dermatologist take a look!
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