It wasn’t until recently that sunscreen became a staple in the parks and recreation lexicon.
As a child growing up in southern California, I fondly remember hot summer weekends schlepping behind my mother–a Boogie board in tow–to the beach. Besides a towel or two, a book for my mother and some pocket change for an ice cream cone, nothing ever appeared to be missing.
Lack of scientific data and little information available to the public on skin cancer meant the majority of the population grew up without basic sun-safety knowledge.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are more new cases of skin cancer each year than incidences of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. It could be argued that a quality sunscreen may very well be one of the most important items for a summer program–particularly one involving children.
In The Beginning
It is interesting to note that sunscreen has been around for thousands of years in one form or another. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians used various mixtures of minerals and oils to protect their skin from the sun.
Amazingly, the modern-day sunscreen has only been available since the 1960s, when the need to block ultraviolet (UV) rays was introduced. Along with this discovery came the concept of Sun Protection Factor (SPF), a now universal standard most Americans look for when purchasing sunscreen.
Sunscreens have progressively improved over the past 50 years, as they first protected against ultraviolet B (UVB), then ultraviolet A (UVA) in the 1990s, and now the most recent development at the turn of the century–waterproof and “sweat-proof” formulas.
There is no question that the sun damages unprotected skin. Skin cancer is real, and with early signs now showing up in teenagers, parks and recreational professionals must meet this issue head-on.
According to Dr. Evelyn M. Jones of Well Springs Dermatology and an educational spokesperson for The Skin Cancer Foundation, “There is a definite known risk with ultraviolet light being classified as a known carcinogen (cancer risk factor). More than 90 percent of skin cancers are the result of sun exposure. Sun exposure without sunscreen usage is especially dangerous to children with many moles or freckles, fair skin, light hair and a family history of sun exposure.”
In addition to the more highly publicized pre-cancerous and cancerous skin lesions, basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma, there is a laundry list of other negative byproducts due to overexposure to the sun:
• Texture changes–skin begins to thicken and thin in various areas of the body
• Fine and coarse wrinkles
• Moles and freckles
• Bruising and tearing of the skin
• Discoloration and spotting
• Telangiectasias–the dilation of small blood vessels under the skin
• Rapid aging of the skin.
A Basic Lesson
What are the basics of skin protection? The first and most obvious tenet in sun safety is to avoid the sun altogether. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
When avoidance is not an option, children should wear clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts and loose-fitting pants, that provides a layer of protection between themselves and the sun.
If your summer program takes the group away from the natural history museum and you are forced to deal with the elements directly, an effective sunscreen is the next line of defense. There is currently a multitude of sunscreen options to consider, such as organic, inorganic, SPF-rating, waterproof, “sweat-proof,” etc.
No matter the brand or manufacturer, there are several factors to be considered when evaluating sunscreens. An SPF 100 on a bottle does not mean that the sunscreen will block 100 percent of UV rays.
According to Cynthia Greaves with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, “On average, an SPF 2 will block about 50 percent of UVB rays, an SPF 10 about 85 percent of UVB rays, an SPF 15 about 95 percent of UVB rays and SPF 30 about 97 percent of UVB rays.” So what does the higher SPF mean? While an SPF higher than 30 does not provide any additional UV protection, it does allow you to spend a longer time in the sun without burning.
Unfortunately, as much as the bottle proclaims, there is no such thing as a truly waterproof sunscreen. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours and more often while swimming or sweating. Also, to receive the full benefits of sunscreen, it is recommended that it be applied 15 to 20 minutes before sun exposure.
Another key item to remember is to use an ounce of sunscreen per body part. Dr. Jones adds that it is important to look for “[a] broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection with an SPF between 15 and 30. One very helpful tool is to look for the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Approval or the AAD Seal of Recognition.”
The days of sending kids to camp without proper sun-protection are over. While most authorities agree sunscreen can prevent or at the very least help prevent skin cancer, the most effective means of prevention besides avoidance is the use of primary barriers, such as sunglasses, hats and clothing.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, “Sunscreens should not be the first choice for skin-cancer prevention, and should not be used as the sole agent for protection against the sun.”
Wherever summer activities take you and your participants, don’t forget the basics of sun safety.
Steve Yeskulsky, CPRP is the Director of Recreation and The Arts for the City of Hyattsville, Md. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Test Your Sun-Safety Knowledge
Answer all 10 correctly and become a Sun-Safety Champion!
1. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
2. An SPF 10 blocks about ____ percent of UVB rays.
3. Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidences of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.
4. A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had:
A. One or more sunburns at any age.
B. Two or more sunburns at any age.
C. Five or more sunburns at any age.
D. Ten or more sunburns at any age.
5. Children can receive up to 80 percent of their lifetime sun exposure before they turn 18.
6. Wearing clothes instead of putting on sunscreen offers just as much if not better protection than wearing only sunscreen.
7. What percentage of skin cancers is the result of sun exposure?
A. 90 percent
B. 40 percent
C. 100 percent
D. 70 percent
8. The requirements and standards for sunscreens vary by country. Sunscreens in Australia must prevent the ability to withstand two hours of rapidly moving water, which prevents wash-off or sweat-off. U.S. standards require effectiveness in:
A. 15 minutes of standing water
B. 30 minutes of standing water
C. 3 hours of standing water
D. 6 hours of standing water
9. According to a recent study by the American Cancer Society of youth ages 11 – 18, effective sun protection is practiced by less than:
A. 50 percent
B. 66 percent
C. 33 percent
D. 10 percent
10. Damage from sun exposure to a child’s skin is not permanent, and can be treated later in life.
(From The American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2009. Atlanta: American Cancer Society. 2009.)
(Taken from Pfahlberg, A., Kolmel, K.F., Gefeller, O. “Timing of excessive ultraviolet radiation and melanoma: epidemiology does not support the existence of a critical period of high susceptibility to solar ultraviolet radiation-induced melanoma.” British Journal of Dermatology, March 2001; 144; 3:471.)
(Depending on the type of clothing, a sunscreen may offer better protection. For example, a basic white, cotton jersey knit shirt on average only has an approximate SPF value of 4.)
(According to Dr. Evelyn M. Jones of Well Springs Dermatology, most children get between 50 percent and 80 percent of their lifetime sun exposure before the age of 18. This damage is permanent, and the increased risk of skin cancer, aging of the skin and brown spots cannot be reversed.)
What’s The Difference?
Although most have heard the terms UVA and UVB rays, do you really know what they mean? Take a look:
UVA (ultraviolet-A)–Long-wave solar rays of 320 to 400 nanometers (billionths of a meter). Although they are less likely than UVB to cause sunburn, UVA penetrates the skin more deeply, and is considered the chief culprit behind wrinkling, leathering and other aspects of “photoaging.” The latest studies show that UVA not only increases UVB’s cancer-causing effects, but may directly cause some skin cancers, including melanomas.
UVB (ultraviolet-B)–Short-wave solar rays of 290 to 320 nanometers. More potent than UVA in producing sunburn, these rays are considered the main cause of basal and squamous cell carcinomas, as well as a significant cause of melanoma.