It's Not Too Early for Sunscreen!

As I look out my bedroom window this morning, I note with growing excitement that the snow is melting, the birds are singing, and the bulbs are sprouting in my high altitude Colorado garden.  Spring is coming, with summer soon on its heels!

Most of us look forward to enjoying the summer months, particularly after enduring a long, cold, snow, and slush filled winter.  We are happier in the summer, and tend to have more energy.  Getting outside causes our bodies to produce more “feel good” chemicals, such as endorphins, both through increased activity and exposure to sunlight.

Summer does come along with some risks, however, and as a mother, I always make sure that my children are protected.  They wear helmets when riding their bikes, and life jackets when going boating or sailing.  And most importantly, my husband and I continuously slather our children in sunscreen whenever they go outside.

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The importance of adequate skin protection cannot be overstated. About 5% of the sunlight that hits the Earth is composed of Ultraviolet radiation or UVR.  The two types of UVR that reach us are called UVA and UVB.  Exposing our skin to Ultraviolet radiation can result in burns, inflammation, premature ageing, and cancers.

The best way to avoid the deleterious effects of the sun is by staying inside during UV radiation peak times, generally between 10 am and 3 pm, or by wearing sun protective clothing.  Of course, for most of us, this is an unrealistic expectation.  Our best defense therefore, is through the generous use of topical sunscreens.

Over the counter sunscreens have evolved over the years, and the FDA has really stepped up recently in its regulations and recommendations.  To be labeled as a truly protective, “sunscreening” agent, products must contain a combination of UVA and UVB “filters” at a minimum SPF of 15.  These “UV filters” act by converting high intensity UV rays into lower energy safer wavelengths.   Commonly used ingredients with this ability include: Padimate O, octinoxate, oxybenzone, and meradimate, just to name a few.  Products reaching an SPF of 30 or greater have added inert “photoblocking” agents such as zinc oxide or titanium diozine.  Rather than transforming ultraviolet lightwaves, photoblocking agents act to physically block, reflect, or scatter UV light before it can reach the skin.

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Sunscreens must be applied in recommended amounts, and must be reapplied at least every two hours for maximum benefit.  Even so called “waterproof” agents must be reapplied after sweating, toweling off, bathing, and swimming.

Childhood sunburns are a major risk factor for future cancers, such as melanoma.  Studies have shown that adults who experienced five or more severe sunburns during childhood or adolescence doubled their risk compared with those who were better protected.

So, have a great summer.  Spend time together and create wonderful outdoor memories for your children.  Keep them protected from injury, and don’t forget the sunscreen!

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