It may sound strange today, but a generation or two ago, few people took sun safety seriously. Sunburns were a fact of life to be treated with moisture-packed, cooling gels and, in serious cases, painkillers.
People worked or played outside whenever they liked; beachgoers frolicked in the sun for hours applying nothing to their skin except heavy oils to facilitate an even tan.
At the same time, back in those days, skin cancer was viewed as the exception, not the common occurrence it’s become today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 5 million people are treated for skin cancer each year in the United States, at an estimated annual cost of $8.1 billion. Skin cancer can be serious, even deadly – and it’s the most common form of cancer in both in the United States and worldwide. Consider these statistics from the Skin Cancer Foundation:
- 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
- On average, a person’s risk for a potentially deadly cancer called melanoma doubles if they have had more than five sunburns – but just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
- Sun damage is cumulative, but not evenly distributed: about 23 percent of lifetime sun exposure occurs by age 18.
- Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent.
In other words, it’s clear that sun safety is very important to the future health of everyone who spends time outdoors. And if that’s not a big deal, we’re not sure what is.
Now for the good news: the skin damage that can lead to cancer is preventable, and taking steps toward prevention has proven to be successful. Here’s a quick collection of helpful facts about sun exposure and protection for kids.
All About UV
According to the American Cancer Society, ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun and some man-made sources like tanning beds. These UV rays have enough energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule; this can damage the DNA in cells, which in turn may lead to cancer.
Among the types of UV rays, UVA rays have the least energy; they can cause skin cells to age and can cause some indirect damage to cells’ DNA. UVB rays have slightly more energy than UVA rays; they can damage the DNA in skin cells directly and are the main rays that cause sunburns. They are also thought to cause most skin cancers. About 95% of the UV rays from the sun that reach the ground are UVA rays, with the remaining 5% being UVB rays. Here are some other helpful notes:
- UV rays can penetrate through clouds, so sunburns and skin damage can occur even on cloudy or overcast days.
- UV rays can reflect off surfaces like water, sand, snow, pavement or even grass, leading to an increase in UV exposure.
- UV rays are strongest:
- Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is highest overhead
- During spring and summer months (unless you’re near the equator, where sun exposure is strong year-round)
- At higher elevations, because more UV rays reach the ground there
All About Sunscreen
Most sunscreen products work by absorbing, reflecting or scattering sunlight; they contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays. Here are some tips for choosing an effective sunscreen:
- Choose a broad–spectrum product with an SPF of 15 or higher.
- Sunscreen wears off, so put it on again if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
- Don’t skip hard-to-reach places like your back; get someone to help.
- Some sunscreens have an expiration date, which should always be checked.
- Products without an expiration date can be considered to have a shelf life of no more than three years.
- Any sunscreen shelf life is shorter if it has been exposed to high temperatures, so store the products inside and don’t leave them in the sun.
- Not all sunscreens use the same ingredients; if skin reacts badly to one product, try another one or consult your doctor.
Protect With Prevention
The important thing to remember is that sunscreen works best when combined with other protective options. Keep the following ideas in mind when sending your kids out to play.
- Plan playtime at shaded areas or during low-UV times of day (usually early morning or late afternoon).
- Consider the clothing kids are wearing outdoors:
- Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection.
- Wet clothing offers much less UV protection than dry clothing.
- Darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors.
- Some clothing is certified against sun exposure under international standards; this clothing comes with information on its UV protection factor.
- A hat with a wide brim can protect both the face and the sensitive skin of the neck.
- Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection; most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side to damage the sensitive skin around the eyes.
The sun can damage unprotected skin in as little as 15 minutes. Check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s UV Index for information personalized to your area.
To learn more about or get involved with a sun safety program near you, visit the National Cancer Institute’s RTIPs website.
Finally, outdoor recreational areas promote health, wellness and a sense of community – but in South Texas, it’s important that they provide shade as well. This can be in the form of trees, pavilions and other permanent structures, or shade structures installed over play areas such as umbrellas and sails. Park Place Recreation Designs works with architecturally designed, long-lasting fabrics that block up to 98 percent of UV rays, keep playground surfaces up to 20 degrees cooler, and are available in almost any shape, size and color. Adding shade to your play space not only increases the amount of time your visitors stay, it also increases the value of your facility to your community.
Contact us today and we can help you find a shade structure that suits your needs and is within your budget.