There is nothing sweeter than the beginning of summer and all it has to offer. Trips to amusement parks, ice cream cones that drip all over your fingers, and days at the beach are what summer is all about. Until recently, however, I never really understood the hidden dangers of the sun and how tragic life can become in a fleeting instant.
One of my husband’s best friends was recently diagnosed with a deadly form of skin cancer. He is now an amputee in his mid-30s and is in a constant struggle to keep his head and spirits up. His courageous battle with cancer has inspired me to do my part in protecting my family from the sun’s harmful rays.
When you think about all the life-saving advice we offer our kids, protecting their skin is probably not on the top of the list. For instance, I have always reminded my oldest daughter to “Stop, look, and listen” before crossing the street, and to “Stop, drop, and roll” if she should ever catch fire. But, the fact is, our children are actually more likely to develop skin cancer than to get hit by a car or catch on fire.
As a mother, I had to come up with some sort of fun way to teach my kids about sun safety. Since I’ve found that catchy phrases stick better than long-winded ones, I came up with the child-friendly phrase: “Stop, spray, and play” to help remind my girls to protect their skin:
Before going outside, stop.
Spray: Spray on some sunscreen
(the spray bottles are great for little ones), and rub it in thoroughly and evenly. It’s best to apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes prior to sun exposure. If you forget, don’t sweat it. Remembering to apply it is what’s important.
Besides making up catchy jingles to appease our children’s quest for parental silliness, you can also try the following skin-saving strategies:
—Hats on: Kids look adorable in hats. A wide-brimmed hat is best and so is one that says, “My mommy rules!” Not only do they look cool, hats help shade our children’s eyes and protect their delicate facial skin.
—Sunscreen is our friend: Remember that sunscreen can save lives. When looking for sunscreen products, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends an SPF of 15 or higher. It should also provide both UVA and UVB protection. Reapply a good amount (approximately a shot glass full) at least every two hours, and even more frequently with heavy perspiration or when swimming.
—Time is of the essence: The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 4pm, so it is especially important to remember sunscreen during these hours.
—Play in the shade: When possible, try to get your children to play in the shade. I try to frequent parks with lots of shady trees. Umbrellas are also great for the beach, but use caution! Last summer, my runaway umbrella had me sprinting in the sand and soaring into the air to catch it before it pounded into a small child and her mother. I have since mastered the art of umbrella anchoring.
Although the sun looks friendly enough, it is important to remember that looks are often deceiving. So have a ball this summer and may you and your family slip and slide your way to happiness. Just remind your kids (and yourself) to stop and spray before they go and play.
P.S.S. (Parent Sanity Saver): For quick relief of minor sunburn, dip your child in a cool bath and apply zinc oxide ointment afterwards.
Skin Cancer Facts
—One in five Americans will develop skin cancer.
—Your risk of developing skin cancer doubles if you have had five or more sunburns.
—At least 90 percent of all skin cancers are due to excessive sun exposure.
TARA KOMPARE is a Doctor of Pharmacy, mother of two, and chocoholic. Email questions/comments to [email protected] or visit her website at www.themedicinemom.com.