How to Protect Your Family from Sun Damage

Do You Really Have to Wear Sunscreen Every Day?

Even though summer is still a few months away, today I want to stress the importance of sun protection for keeping our families safe. And really, there’s no better time than right now to discuss it, because the sun can do damage even on a snowy or cloudy day.

In fact, just minutes of exposure can lead to sunburn no matter what the weather is like. That’s why it’s so important to adopt good (yes, daily) habits of sun protection for you and your family.

Sun Damage

Did you know that more cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S. than all other kinds of cancers combined? In fact, one in every three cancers diagnosed worldwide is a cancer of the skin. And this problem is getting worse. According to skincancer.org:

  • The diagnosis and treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers in the U.S. increased by 77% between 1994 and 2014.
  • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.

While statistics like these are scary, knowledge is power. And when we realize that the number-one cause of most skin cancer is overexposure to the sun, we’re more likely to protect ourselves. According to skincancer.org:

  • A whopping 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
  • And 86% of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to UV radiation.
  • On average, the risk for melanoma doubles if you’ve had more than five sunburns. (And it’s easy to be burned: You can even get a sunburn from the sun’s rays reflecting off of snow!)

That’s why it’s so important to wear protective clothing every single time you go outside. And for those areas of your body that remain uncovered, be sure to apply a sunscreen every day.

Which Kind of Sunscreen Is Best?

With all the available options for sun protection, it can get little overwhelming. But understanding a few basics can help you make the right choice for you and your family.

Broad Spectrum

The sun produces two kinds of rays—UVA and UVB—which damage your skin in multiple ways. To get the most protection, look for “Broad Spectrum” or “Full Spectrum,” on the product label. These block both kinds of rays.

Note: UVA rays are constantly present (even on cloudy days) and can penetrate skin layers, clothing and even glass. If you’re outdoors at all, even just driving the kids to school, you should be wearing a sunscreen (and so should they).

Sun Protection Factor

SPF is really a measure of time. A product’s SPF rating indicates how long you can be in the sun without burning while wearing that sunscreen, compared with how long you can be in the sun before burning without wearing it. For example, if you typically burn in 15 minutes without sunscreen and you apply an SPF 10, it will take 10 times longer for you to burn, or 2.5 hours, IF you apply enough sunscreen.

According to skincancer.org, regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing both melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma by 50% and 40%, respectively. Studies show that sunscreen with SPF 30 blocks 97% of the sun’s rays. A higher SPF number offers only miniscule gains.

How Much Is Enough?

This is important. You should use about an ounce on your body and a teaspoon on your face every time you apply. Apply generously and often—every 40 to 80 minutes, especially if you’re in the water and/or sweating. Remember to cover all exposed areas, including your hands, feet, ears, neck and chest.

Chemical or Physical?

What your sunscreen is made of is also important. Most sun-blocking products fall into one of two categories: chemical or physical.

  • Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays. One of the chemicals typically used is oxybenzone, a synthetic compound which can cause skin reactions and even lead to alteration of genes related to the endocrine system when used extensively. When mixed with other synthetic UV filters, oxybenzone can enhance skin penetration, in turn, potentially leading to cell damage that can cause skin cancer—the very thing you’re trying to protect against!
  • Physical sunscreens are mineral-based and act like a shield to deflect harmful rays. These usually contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide, which protect the skin from UVA radiation and pose fewer health concerns than the chemical variety. They’re also safer for children and for those with sensitive skin.

Teaching your family sun safety will not only help to protect them from skin cancer but will also stall the aging effects of the sun. They may not thank you now, but they’re sure to thank you later!

Sunscreens and Coral Reefs

Sunscreens can impact the environment in unexpected ways.

  • Researchers at the University of Central Florida say that sunscreens containing the chemical compound oxybenzone are responsible for damage to coral reefs in popular tourist destinations.
  • According to the U.S. National Park Service, around 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen enters coral reef areas around the world each year.
  • While no sunscreen has been proven to be completely “reef-friendly,” those with titanium oxide or zinc oxide, which are natural mineral ingredients, have not been found harmful to corals.
comment_2Have you ever struggled with getting your children to wear sunscreen? Please share your success tips with other readers below!

Resources:

When’s the best time to wear sun protection?

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Summer:
 
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Year-round:
 
95%
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