After a long and frigid winter, it’s time to rejoice as summer is right around the corner. While the arrival of summer is an appropriate cause for celebration, it’s also a good time to remember how important it is to protect yourself from harmful sun rays with sunscreen.
Despite the risk for skin cancer and other skin-related health conditions, studies show that only about 25% of children wear sunscreen regularly. Sunburns pose serious health risks to adults, but they are especially worrisome for children as their bodies are still developing and their skin is more sensitive. A child that is not protected from the sun with an appropriate amount of sunscreen is at risk of getting a painful sunburn in the moment, and increases the chances for long term health effects down the line.
What Happens When I Get Sunburned?
Most people experience a nasty sunburn or two at some time during their life. If we forget to wear sunscreen, the risk of getting sunburned increases dramatically. Why do sunburns hurt so much and turn our skin red?
The ultraviolet radiation that the sun beams down on earth is incredibly powerful. The energy from these rays is so powerful in fact, that the radiation damages the DNA molecules in our skin when unshielded. Once our cells detect damaged DNA, they launch defense mechanisms that cause inflammation and increase the amount of blood sent to the area, hence the red-tinted skin. The body makes new skin cells to replace the damaged DNA. The reason your skin commonly peels after a sunburn is because or body is forcing the sunburnt cells out they are damaged and no longer functioning.
Long Term Effects of a Sunburn
As we all know, sunburns will fade after a few days and your skin will return to its original color and condition. Sometimes the burn will fade into a nice tan. So why are sunburns such a bad thing? Because of their long term effects.
In the previous section, when we discussed the process of making new skin cells, you might have thought to yourself, what’s the harm in some new fresh skin cells being produced? Well, when the sun’s radiation is impacting our DNA and causing our body to leap into action, not all of the damage is repaired. Each time you suffer a sunburn, some of the damaged DNA is left behind. After a while, if your skin’s DNA continues to be damaged and damaged DNA accumulates, the regeneration process goes haywire. Eventually, your body may begin to generate abnormal skin cells, which increases risk for skin cancers such as melanoma and other skin conditions.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops within the cells that are tasked with giving your skin its color. The more damage that your skin cells experience as a result of UV radiation from the sun, or tanning lamps and bulbs, the greater the risk of melanoma developing. As with other types of cancers, the largest danger in melanoma is that the cancer can spread if it is not detected and treated early enough.
Symptoms of melanoma are noticeable changes to your skin either by dark growth developing on the surface of your skin, or by a change in shape and size of an existing mole.
How Sunscreen Protects Against Sunburns and Skin Disease
Certain chemicals, including the minerals zinc oxide and titanium oxide, serve as physical sunblock by reflecting UV rays. Many sunscreens contain these reflective chemicals. This protects skin cells from exposure to UV rays and protects against the harmful DNA damage that leads to burns and eventually skin diseases.
In addition to these reflective chemicals, many sunscreens also include organic chemicals such as avobenzone and oxybenzone that bolster UV ray defenses further. These organic compounds absorb UV rays and then gradually release the heat.
What about SPF?
Every bottle of sunscreen has a SPF rating noted on the bottle. SPF stands for sun protection factor, and it refers to how strong the sunscreen is at protecting against UV radiation. The higher the SPF number, the better the sunscreen will be at protecting against UV rays. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, SPF 15 sunscreen lotions can defend against about 93% of UV rays, SPF 30 protects against about 97%, and SPF 50 fights off 98% of UV ray. While sunscreen greatly improves your skin’s ability to fight off UV radiation, no sunscreen can protect your skin from 100% of UV rays.
How to Protect Your Child
Whenever your child is out in the sun, you should be applying a liberal amount of sunscreen on their exposed skin. Most organizations will recommend that you use at least 30 SPF sunscreen, though the lighter the complexion a child has the stronger sunscreen they should use. Very young children under the age of six months should never have their skin exposed directly to sun. Sunscreen is not recommended for age less than 6 months. Depending on the activity, consider wearing lightweight clothing to cover the body or a broad brimmed hat.
Sunscreen should be applied about a half hour before being exposed to the sun. Sunscreen lotions and sprays need time to bind to your skin, and don’t offer you full protection until the have. Also, you’ll want to make sure that you reapply sunscreen to both yourself and your child if you’re spending a prolonged period of time out in the sun, such as a long hike, bike ride, or day at the beach.
By making sure that you and your child are always wearing sunscreen when being exposed to the sun, you’re both protecting the short-term risk of getting a painful sunburn, and the long-term risk of developing skin cancer.