Did you know 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives? As the weather improves, we often spend more time outdoors at events from BBQs to sporting events. Bronzed skin is the look of the past and I had a chance to interview board certified NYC dermatologist, Dr. Janet Prystowsky, about sunscreen safety.
What are some often overlooked places when parents are applying sunscreen to kids?
Most parents are great about covering their kid’s back, arms, legs, chest, neck, and face. Easy places to forget, however, are their kid’s ears, ankles, hands and tops of their feet. The scalp is another site that’s very important to pay attention to. I’ve seen many burns along the part line for girls and boys. But boys that have very short haircuts can burn their entire scalps. I encourage mothers to let their boys hair grow longer in the summer so that their ears and scalps are better protected.
How can parents be sure they have enough coverage for themselves?
Clothing is the best way to stay protected. Wide brimmed hats, shirts, pants, shoes, (and even umbrellas) are better sun protectants than sunscreen. For any place that isn’t covered by clothing though, and even if you’re under shade, wear sunscreen and reapply every 2 hours.
Sunscreen comes in so many forms nowadays - is there a difference in terms of safety or effectiveness?
Using a broad spectrum SPF 50+ mineral sunscreen is the way to go. It may sound like overkill, but a lot of times sunscreens will overstate their effectiveness. My rule of thumb is to divide the SPF number by 2 to get the real SPF number. Broad spectrum sunscreen blocks UVA and UVB rays, whereas other sunscreens only block UVB. You won’t get burnt if you use a sunscreen that only blocks UVB, but you will get sun damage that can manifest later on as age spots, wrinkles, or even skin cancer.
What ingredients are important to find in sunscreen?
Look for mineral sunscreens that use titanium oxide and/or zinc oxide. Those sunscreens don’t have as many chemicals that can absorb through your skin into the bloodstream. They remain on the skin surface as physical blockers.
Why are people still using tanning beds if they're so dangerous?
Even though tan skin is a sign of sun damage, it’s still in vogue for a lot of people. So in order to look tan year round, some people are willing to risk early wrinkles, age spots, and skin cancer. They may not even realize that tanning beds are just as harmful (and maybe more harmful?) as tanning outside.
How can parents encourage their teens to stay away from tanning beds and practice safe sun?
If parents practice good sun protection habits, their kids will pick it up. Explaining why tanning isn’t safe will do more than telling them not to do it. Show them an elderly person’s hands and they’ll get the idea. Tanning used to be considered healthy, so an elderly person’s hands will be covered in wrinkles and strange looking blotches and bumps. You can reduce that with good sun protection.
How can parents make sure their children have good sun habits?
If parents practice good sun protection with their kids, they can help their children form good habits. They’ll pick up on what you do and emulate it. Remind them that clothing is their first defense from the sun. And for any place that isn’t covered by clothing, they’ll need sunscreen, or else they run the risk of getting burned.