I’ll never forget a couple of years ago walking down the street in the hot summer sun with my two little boys. An older woman stopped me, commented on how beautiful my children were, and then reminded me to be careful about the sun with them. I would have probably been annoyed oh, surprise! another random stranger telling me that I’m parenting all wrong! if she hadn’t looked so lovingly at my baby, who was 7 or 8 months old at the time, and mentioned how her own son had died of skin cancer years earlier.
I could see the pain in her face as she looked at my little boy and remembered hers. She is possibly the only stranger who has commented on my parenting on the street (and there have been many) that I consider an angelic messenger rather than either an antagonist or just a kind person. And I remember that exchange every year as the days get hotter and longer. Whenever I’m tempted to skip the sunscreen and just get the kids and myself out of the apartment as quickly as possible, I stop, realign my priorities and pull out the SPF 50.
Recent findings confirm that starting the sunscreen habit early on is important: skin cancer rates have increased in the past 40 years, and more in the women-under-40 category than in any other. And because childhood sunburns can contribute to the risk of developing skin cancer, it’s critical to protect your little ones as much as it is to protect yourself.
You may not be lucky enough to have an angelic messenger remind you to slather on the sunscreen every time you go out, but I’m willing to step in and give you some tips instead.
7 Ways to Shield Yourself (And Your Kids) From Skin Cancer 1 of 8
Make it a habit!
Wear Sunscreen 2 of 8
Yes, it's obvious, out there, and possibly even overstated to the point that we don't even hear it any more. It's also, perhaps, the most annoying method of skin-cancer prevention, especially if you have kids. (Don't believe me? Check out this slideshow from the New York Times of kids getting slathered in the stuff.) But the stuff works. And it has gotten easier over the years. Spray it on, rub it in, and you're good to go.
Wear Hats 3 of 8
Wide-brimmed hats that cover your face, ears, and neck block those harmful rays and cut your risk of unhealthy exposure. They can be really cute, too, on babies and adults alike.
Find Some Shade — Or Bring Your Own 4 of 8
Parasols may not be totally fashionable these days, but then again, neither is cancer. It may be too much to carry an umbrella with you all the time, but for sure pack one for the beach, the park, or anywhere you might be exposed to the sun during the heat of the day. If you can grab a spot under a tree or a pavilion, more power to you, but be sure to have a back-up plan in case that doesn't work out.
Dress Appropriately 5 of 8
We tend to think that less is more when it comes to clothes in the summer, but clothes do a pretty good job of keeping harmful UV rays from getting to our skin. Look for clothes with a high UPF or Ultraviolet Protection Factor (15 is good, and 50+ is excellent), which more and more clothing companies are adding to their product information. If you can't find a UPF, just remember, darker colors block the sun better than lighter colors, and less skin showing means more protection.
Stay Inside 6 of 8
It may be a little much to ask to stay inside all day every day, but if you can, plan your outings when the sun is lower in the sky, and stay inside between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Wear Sunglasses 7 of 8
Sunglasses are, thankfully, cute and can make you feel like a movie star. But they're also pretty good at blocking cancer- and cataract-causing UV rays. Find pairs you love for you and the kids, and then don't leave home without them.
Avoid Tanning Beds 8 of 8
I cringe to think of all the girls I knew in high school who went to the tanning salon before every Homecoming Dance and Prom. Tanning beds give off up to 15% more harmful radiation than the sun and can damage skin and cause cancer much more quickly.
If you're thinking about hitting the tanning bed to get a nice base tan before you go on your tropical island vacation, don't. You're better off packing your sunscreen, your wide-brimmed hat, your sunglasses, your long-sleeved tunics, and your sunglasses and bringing your parasol for good measure. White skin is a bit better than a poke in the eye, and a lot better than melanoma.
photo via istockphoto.com