Healthiest Summertime Skin
Summer is time for parents and kids alike to recommit to healthy skin care, as even one sunburn can not only leave children red and peeling, but also increase two-fold their lifetime risk of deadly melanoma. Latanya Benjamin, MD, co-chair of the “Time Out, Protect Your Skin” initiative, has a few tips, “mythbusters,” and suggestions for those looking to soak in the sun safely, at any time of the year.
As the summer heats up, are there particular sports that parents should be wary of, due to increased sun exposure?
Benjamin: Regardless of the sport, the peak sun hours are from 10 am to 4 pm; That’s when kids will be the most exposed to the sun. Even if they apply sunscreen, they are sweating it off. I would recommend that parents teach their kids to reapply sunscreen every two hours – even on cloudy days – and to reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating. The same tips go for snow sports. Sun protection is just as important during the winter, as snow and water reflect UVA and UVB rays as well.
Many individuals with darker skin believe that they have “built-in” sunscreen. Is that true?
Benjamin: Those with more melanin – or pigment – in their skin have a little more protection, as the melanin forms a little protective cap over the DNA. But all skin types are susceptible to melanoma. In fact, even Bob Marley died of melanoma on his foot; the cancer metastasized throughout his body.
Those with fair skin and light-colored eyes are more at risk because they will burn faster than others. However, all skin colors need to be protected from the dangers of the sun.
Does a sunscreen with a higher SPF – like SPF 75 – actually work more effectively?
Benjamin: No. Once a sunscreen has an SPF of 50, it provides more than 90 percent of the maximum sun protection that you are going to get; the “SPF 75” label is misleading. In fact, the FDA has decided that "SPF 50+" will now be the highest rating allowed on a product. You don’t have to go beyond SPF 50 to get protection from a good sunscreen.
Furthermore, the word SPF designates a time frame; it’s based on the amount of time it would take you to start getting pink after sun exposure. For example, if I put on SPF 5, then it will take me five times longer to get red than if I were not wearing sunscreen. However, the most important way of getting protection from UVA and UVB rays is the reapplication of sunscreen. Reapplying sunscreen at least every two hours is optimal.
You’ve mentioned that you’re seeing an increase in melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – among teens. Can you explain this trend?
Benjamin: I believe that the rise in melanoma rates, especially among young women, has to do with the increased use of tanning beds. When an individual lies in a tanning bed, they receive nine times more concentrated UVA rays than if spending that time in the sun. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin, hitting the DNA of the cells and causing mutations at the cellular level. These mutations can lead to skin cancer later.
As dermatologists, we are pushing nationally against the use of tanning beds by visiting local schools, as well as speaking to fellow pediatricians, our patients, and the general population about the dangers of these machines.
When it comes to purchasing sunscreens for kids, what should parents look for?
Benjamin: Use mineral-based sunscreens which are safe and effective, and even great for children with sensitive skin. Look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients.
Also, parents should be sure to dress their children in protective clothing, including sunglasses that have 99 to 100 percent UVA and UVB protection, and hats. Long sleeves and light-weight pants are great options, preferably of tightly woven fabric. Sun lovers or those with a genetic risk for melanoma can also purchase laundry aids that wash UV protection right into their clothing.
Click to learn more about the ABCDE’s of melanoma, the work of Latanya Benjamin, MD, and new FDA rules about sunscreen.