By Ronald W. Wolf (Army Medicine)June 29, 2017
It's Independence Day. For many, it's a long weekend: barbeques, families outside in the heat and sun, and after dark on the 4th--fireworks celebrating our nation's independence.
That also means it's time to revisit smart practices to protect you, your family, and especially your children from exposure to the sun and its ultraviolet--or UV--rays. This is important, a sunburn now increases your risk--and your children's risk--for skin cancer later in life.
Let's start by reviewing some of the risk factors for skin cancer. Although anyone of any skin color has some risk for skin cancer, some individuals are at much higher risk. If you have a lighter natural skin color, a family history of skin cancer, or a personal history of skin cancer, you are in this category. The same is true if your skin burns, freckles, or turns red easily in the sun.
There's more. If you have blue or green eyes, blond or red hair, or a lot of moles, you need to be careful in the sun.
Be wary of sunburns, especially with your children. Like to do your tanning indoors? Indoor tanning is not such a good thing either.
The more time you have spent out in the sun in your lifetime also increases risk.
The culprit in skin cancer is UV rays. When UV rays reach the skin's inner layer, the skins response to UV rays is to produce more melanin, the pigment that colors the skin. Melanin moves toward the outer layers of the skin, giving you a tan.
A tan, however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is not the glow of good health but a response to skin injury.
So, you're thinking, I need to keep my family indoors, but how can I grill on the barbeque indoors?
You can't, but here are some precautions and good practices to consider.
Wear broad spectrum sunscreen (UVA and UVB) or protective clothing and better yet wear both.
Put on broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15; a rating higher than SPF 15 is better (SPF stands for Sun Protective Factor). SPF ratings can go up to 100 and the higher the number the better you are protected. Exposed skin needs more sunscreen than skin under a shirt. Sunscreen works best when combined with other options--such as clothing--to prevent UV damage. Read and follow the directions on the sunscreen product.
If possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Some clothing has ratings or information on its UV protective factors. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection.
If long sleeves and pants are not practical, say you're at the beach, wear a T-shirt or a beach cover-up. A typical T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well.
Do you wear a hat? You don't have to look like Don Draper wearing a fedora, but you should wear a hat with a brim that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck.
If you wear a baseball cap, protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas or using the broad spectrum sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher).
Soldiers are issued protective eyewear for a reason. You need protective eyewear, too. Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. Make sure sunglasses block both UVA and UVB rays. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from the side. They also look cool.
Take advantage of shade if you can. Set up the barbeque grill and lawn chairs under a tree or canopy.
What about your children?
The rules that apply to you also apply to them. But there's a catch. They are young and just starting their lifetime of exposure to UV rays.
Children need the same sunscreen protection and protective clothing as you do. Wearing hats may not be making a comeback as a fashion accessory, but it's never too early to start getting in the habit of wearing clothing that provides protection from the sun.
And children like to look cool; so get them sunglasses. Make sure they also have UVA and UVB ratings to protect their eyes.
Hopefully, you already have good sun protection practices. Remember, if you sunburn easily and don't get much of a tan, extra precaution is needed.
So enjoy the 4th, be mindful of your and your family's risk and exposure to the sun.