Q: This week, we have enjoyed a preview of Spring, and this weekend is the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Even though it's still Winter, do we really have to think about sun protection?
A: Yes we do. It was a long-time tradition of Dr. Posner to pick March to talk about sunscreen, for a very good reason. We have already entered the season of the year with higher sun angle and longer days. Every year, following sunny days for the St Patrick's Day parade, we not only see the regrettable sunburned cheeks of some children in our offices, even some physician colleagues get significantly burned. So, it is time to talk about preventing skin cancer.
Q: It must be hard to convince folks who have barely seen the sun to protect themselves.
A: The sun is as strong now as it is in early September. All of us are as fair skinned as we will be this year, and are feeling quite sun starved, so we are likely to be careless when we are most vulnerable. Take a moment to remember we need to begin using sunscreen again to avoid sun damage and discomfort as well as the later ill effects of increased cancer risk There is good evidence that most of the total sun injury in adults occurs in childhood and adolescence, so it becomes a parent's responsibility to protect their kids. Spring skiers or boarders are also at very high risk from sun reflected off the snow.
Q: So what should a parent do?
A: Consider the use of sunscreen of at least 15 SPF, if your kids will be out in the sun longer than 30 minutes. An adult needs about an ounce of lotion to completely cover exposures in a decently respectable bathing suit, and kids a bit less. Putting more sunscreen on later in the day, by the way, does not extend the time one is protected. It only brings the protection level up to where you began. Hats are very helpful if you can get your kids to wear them. Sunglasses are cute on small children, and they do prevent retinal damage. Before some tanning occurs try to limit sun exposure. Please keep your prom queens out of the tanning salons as well. Tanning lamps are clearly not safer than real sun, and get very heavy use by teens over the next 3 months. Sunless tanning lotions or sprays have gotten very good, if your teen wants to look tan, use those instead.
Q: Prevention is much better than treatment, but what should people do if their children do become sunburned?
A: There isn't much to do except pain control. Ibuprofen should be started early in the same dosage as for fever, as a preventive, but peak discomfort isn't reached for 24 hours. Lotions such as aloe vera can soothe a bit. Cool compresses, baths also help. If the burn is blistering, you may want to consider contacting your doctor. But all this is avoidable with sunscreen- not to mention reduction of risk of skin cancer in adulthood.
Helpful Link: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/prevention.htm