Keep The Sun At Bay

It wasn’t until recently that sunscreen became a staple in the parks and recreation lexicon.

No sunburn? All smiles!

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.

The Effects

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.

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