Protecting your children from the Infamous UV Rays
For most people, car safety means seat belts and airbags. But there’s another important way to stay out of harm’s way on the road, and that’s by protecting your skin from the sun. A recent study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology revealed that nearly 53 percent of skin cancers in the US occur on the left, or drivers’ side of the body. If you’re one of the approximately 208 million licensed drivers in the US, take heed: “The increase in left-sided skin cancers may be from the UV (ultraviolet) exposure we get when driving a car,” said Susan T. Butler, MD, coauthor of the study.
Babies and children are extra sensitive to the sun, and protecting their skin is paramount. Luckily, with good sun habits, including proper clothing and sunscreen, children can enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities without risking their health.
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The center of this confusion is the sun’s ultraviolet A (long-wave) and ultraviolet B (shortwave) rays. Our understanding of exactly what kinds of damage each causes to the skin, and how best to protect ourselves, seems to shift every year as new research comes out. For example, it was once thought that only UVB was of concern, but we keep learning more and more about the damage caused by UVA. And new, improved forms of protection against UVA keep emerging. Keeping up with these new developments is a worthwhile challenge that can help all of us in preventing sun damage.
UV-A long wave creating sun damage
What is ultraviolet radiation?
UV radiation is part of the electromagnetic (light) spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun. It has wavelengths shorter than visible light, making it invisible to the naked eye. These wavelengths are classified as UVA, UVB, or UVC, with UVA the longest of the three at 320-400 nanometers (nm, or billionths of a meter). UVA is further divided into two wave ranges, UVA I, which measures 340-400 nanometers (nm, or billionths of a meter), and UVA II which extends from 320-340 nanometers. UVB ranges from 290 to 320 nm. With even shorter rays, most UVC is absorbed by the ozone layer and does not reach the earth.
Both UVA and UVB, however, penetrate the atmosphere and play an important role in conditions such as premature skin aging, eye damage (including cataracts), and skin cancers. They also suppress the immune system, reducing your ability to fight off these and other maladies.
UV radiation and skin cancer
By damaging the skin’s cellular DNA, excessive UV radiation produces genetic mutations that can lead to skin cancer. Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have identified UV as a proven human carcinogen. UV radiation is considered the main cause of no melanoma skin cancers (NMSC), including basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). These cancers strike more than a million and more than 250,000 Americans, respectively, each year. Many experts believe that, especially for fair-skinned people, UV radiation also frequently plays a key role in melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, which kills more than 8,000 Americans each year.
with both UVB and UVA protection
CURING CAR TROUBLE
In cars, only the laminated windshield comes with both UVB and UVA protection. The side and back windows allow in more than 60 percent of UVA rays.
Research has shown that UV damage is more extensive on the side of the body closer to the window; long-time drivers also have rougher and more wrinkled skin on their window side.
Babies and young children — who have little protective skin pigment — often sit in back, where none of the glass (even darker glass found in SUVs and mini-vans) offers adequate UVA protection.
Fortunately, UVA-filtering window film can go a long way to prevent skin damage. Combining UVA absorbers in varying strengths, the transparent films are available from clear to dark tints for vehicles’ side and back windows in all 50 states; it screens out more than 99 percent of UVA and UVB without reducing visibility.
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SUN PROTECTION INDOORS
Indoor workers stationed near windows have significantly more wrinkled, rough-textured, and sagging skin on the side of the face closer to the window.
Today, however, UV-screening residential and commercial film is available for home and office. UV absorbers are added to clear or tinted polyester or vinyl to create the film, which comes in varied tints, allowing 30-80 percent of visible light to get through. The installers apply it on the interior glass surface of the windows from flat sheets.
Window film will help prevent sunburn and skin cancer, as well as the brief daily UV exposures that accelerate skin aging over time.
Sun fitness for kids and teens
You want your children to have an active and healthy lifestyle, with plenty of outdoor exercise. But what about the risk of skin damage? Don’t live your life inside — you and your family can be fit and sun-safe.
Every day, parents are bombarded with conflicting advice on what is best for their children. Children aren’t exercising enough — get them outside! Children are at risk for skin cancer — get them inside! It can be confusing. But the truth is, your family members can enjoy a healthy, physically fit lifestyle without endangering their skin — if you all practice good sun protection habits.
Babies under six months should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Their skin is not yet protected by melanin. So when you do take your infant outside, take precautions. Cover your baby’s sensitive skin with proper protective clothing that covers the arms and legs completely, and a wide-brimmed sun hat or bonnet. Also, be sure to use a carriage or stroller with a canopy or hood. If you want to sit outside, find a shady spot or put up an umbrella. Sunscreens can be used on babies over the age of 6 months. You can read more about how to provide sun protection for infants and toddlers here.
With 15 percent of US children ages 6 – 19 overweight or obese, it’s more important than ever that your children be active. They should be encouraged to “go outside and play.” However, on average a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns, so it is important to get your children in the habit of practicing sun protection.
Sometimes, surprisingly, schools are the biggest block to children’s safety. Many schools see sunscreen as a medicine, and require either written permission to use it, or require that the school nurse apply it. Many schools also ban the wearing of hats and sunglasses during school hours, including recess.
Talk to your school’s administration to find out what the policy is on sun safety. Is there any shade on the playground? Are outdoor activities scheduled to avoid the sun’s& peak hours? If your school’s policies are unwittingly endangering your child, alert other parents to the risk, and get involved.
Teens are under enormous pressure to dress, talk, and look a certain way. Sometimes, no matter how much they know about the dangers of tanning, they’ll still seek a tan in order to conform.
If your teen must be tan, teach him or her about self-tanners. New self-tanning lotions and creams can duplicate a natural glow without exposing you to harmful UV rays. They’ve improved immensely over the past few years and won’t turn you orange anymore. But remember, a self-tanner must always be used along with a sunscreen.
Your teen should know that being tan does not mean being healthy. Make sunscreen application part of his or her daily routine. Keep the sunscreen out in the open in the bathroom, next to the toothpaste, as a physical reminder. If your kid is involved in after-school sports, make sure a bottle of sunscreen is always in his equipment bag. Most physical education classes in school take place outside when the weather permits, as does recess, so make sure your kid keeps a bottle of sunscreen in her regular locker or gym locker.
Teens might also balk at other sun protection measures. If your teen complains that the beach hat makes him look stupid, take him shopping and let him pick out one he likes. If your teen complains that nobody else has to wear a dress to the beach, let her choose fun sarongs to go with a colorful matching hat. Luckily, few teens complain about having to wear sunglasses. Let them choose a pair they like, provided they provide UV protection.
Sun safety doesn’t condemn you to life indoors. If you love the beach, go early or late in the day, when the sun’s rays are less intense. Take a supply of sunscreen that has an SPF of 15 or greater. Wear attractive sun-protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat, and carry a beach umbrella. And don’t forget sunglasses to protect your eyes.
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