Beautiful sunny days are wonderful times for families to get outside and enjoy the beach, park, or their own backyards. But the sun's warming rays can be hazardous to your children's health. Learning about sun safety and developing safe sun habits can help you protect your family's health now and in the future.
Though long equated with health and vitality, a tan is actually the skin's defense to radiation damage. What looks like a "healthy tan" for you and your children could eventually lead to wrinkles, freckles, skin texture changes and, worst of all, devastating skin cancer.
Sun damage, whether a tan or burn, occurs when harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays penetrate the skin. There are two types of UV light: UVB and UVA. UVB is the light that damages the outer layers of skin and can lead to the most common types of skin cancer. UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the skin and contribute to aging, also contribute to skin cancer formation.
"The damage to the cells of the skin accumulates over time, which explains the increased numbers of skin cancer that occur as we get older," explains Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, MD, of the American Cancer Society (ACS). "However, that doesn't mean that you have to be old to get skin cancer. Young people can get skin cancers, including the most serious form of skin cancer called melanoma."
An April 2003 study released by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) showed that in a survey of 10,000 American kids ages 12 to 18, only 34.4 percent used sunscreen on sunny days. Additionally, 83 percent of teens admitted to having at least one sunburn within the year. These are grim statistics considering people get about 80 percent of their total lifetime sun exposure in the first 18 years of life—good reason children need adequate sun protection beginning in infancy.