Warnings About Sun Exposure
Years of expert advice on the dangers of too much sun don’t appear to be sinking in, so the nation’s pediatricians have come out with a new, stronger policy statement on the issue.
Melanoma rates continue to rise as Americans stay outside too long – in too little clothing, without enough sunscreen. Worse, teens and adults continue to visit indoor tanning parlors, which pose the same ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure risk.
The problem, specifically, is the UVR lurking in sunshine, which causes three major forms of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and cutaneous malignant melanoma.
Advice in the new policy statement – Ultraviolet Radiation: A Hazard to Children and Adolescents – from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), is fairly standard:
Do not burn; avoid sun tanning and tanning beds. The AAP is supporting a proposed ban on the use of tanning beds by teens, who often use these to get ready for warmer weather and proms. The Food and Drug Administration has been asked to approve a ban preventing people under age 18 from using tanning beds, or to at least require the consent of parents. Even tanning once in a while can increase skin cancer risk by 75 percent, researchers say.
Wear protective clothing and hats. Tightly woven, dark-colored fabrics protect better than loose weaves in lighter shades. An ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rates fabric protection as “good” (15 to 24), “very good” (25 to 39) or “excellent” (40 to 50). Learn more about this at skincancer.org/sun-protective-clothing.html.
Seek shade. But realize that even shade doesn’t offer total protection. A fair-skinned person sitting under a tree can burn in less than an hour.
Use extra caution near water, snow and sand. These reflect the sun’s rays and increase UV exposure.
Apply sunscreen. This means a full ounce of a formulation with an SPF of at least 15, reapplied every two hours and every time you swim, sweat, or towel off.
Wear sunglasses. These don’t have to be pricey; they just have to offer the best UV protection you can find.
The AAP report raises a few controversial issues.
First is the potential of oxybenzone, a common sunscreen ingredient, to trigger “estrogenic (mimicking estrogen) and other systemic effects.” Oxybenzone is absorbed through the skin, has been detected in urine and in breast milk, and researchers have called for more study into its impact on the body’s systems.
Second is the body’s need for vitamin D, which is essential for normal growth and the development of strong bones. Some 30 percent of teens and young adults are vitamin D deficient, as are 8-15 percent of children ages 11 and younger, the AAP says.
Sun exposure is a good source of vitamin D, and there have been calls for “sensible sun exposure” of the arms and legs for 5-30 minutes daily to fend off deficiency. But dermatologists contend that even that kind of exposure is too risky.
In the absence of studies showing just how much sun exposure kids would need to keep their vitamin D levels high enough, the AAP recommends that kids take 400 IU of vitamin D per day.
The AAP report also suggests that telling kids to stay out of the sun might impact childhood obesity rates, already at epidemic proportions in the U.S. The report urges doctors to give sun protection advice “in the context of promoting outdoor physical activity.”
In other words, go outside to play. But try to stay in the shade and wear protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses. And reapply sunscreen every two hours.
Christina Elston is a health writer and editor with Dominion Parenting Media.