Summer’s Most Dangerous Enemy

I have to talk about a subject today that many people don’t like to discuss. I didn’t realize that people didn’t like to talk about it until I started bringing it up and watched people shying away from the conversation, as though it were a taboo topic or something they just brushed off as though it was no big deal. Like so many topics, I believe this is one of those subjects people don’t like to talk about it because it makes them feel guilty. They ignore the dangers because it’s too much trouble. They resist prevention because they really don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Even if they know it can be a big deal, it’s not a guarantee. Not only is it not a guarantee that something bad will happen, even if something bad does happen, it takes a long time to see the effects. It’s such an out of sight out of mind issue that most people don’t bother to pay attention and as a result, they don’t hold themselves accountable to remember it each time. This attitude opens the door to a lack of action that can cause problems for their children later in life.

I have to talk about this subject because occasionally I too, have ignored the dangers- with regards to myself and my kids. I have to bring it up because this is a very serious Cautious Mom topic that NO mother should ever feel paranoid or overly protective for being cautious about.
I have to share this information with you not only to vindicate my own actions (having recieved many eye-rolls and dismissals when I explain how important I think it is), but also to demand respect that it’s not me being paranoid, it’s me being cautious with good reason.

The subject is skin damage, sunblock and how gravely important it really is.

In reality it’s not just me being cautious, it’s me being respectful of my children and their lives and their futures.
I found two freckles on my son’s arm last week and it literally made me cry.
Not because he has freckles, I have about 10 million of them. It made me cry because I am so diligent with sunblock when we go outside but even still- it happened anyway. Last summer, I went into one of his regular doctor check up’s and asked the pediatrition what I was doing wrong. I told him, “Doctor, I apply this sunblock every three hours, as the bottle says- why is he still getting darker??” I was at my wits end- I’d tried four different brands with the same result- he didn’t burn, but he kept getting darker. His response was, every two hours- regardless of what that bottle says. Every two hours even if it says waterproof/resistant. Set a clock and don’t forget. So that’s what I started doing… but it still happened. Even when I am diligent, not everyone who watches them is… and even I forget sometimes.

The thing is, I think freckles are cute until you understand why they exist.
It’s not because I want my children to be pale, porcelain-skinned people necessarily. In fact, I actually think that “sun-kissed” look is really beautiful, especially on kids and adults that spend lots of time at the beach. I love it when I see redheads with all of their beautiful freckles too, so it’s not that I don’t like them, it’s not that I don’t think they’re cute, it’s not about that anymore.
Back before I got into a subculture that appreciated pale skin, I used to lay out in the sun for hours getting a tan, relaxing on a towel, drenched in that amazing coconut suntan oil with the scent that eventually became synonymous with all things summer. There’s something really magical about feeling the sun drenching you in it’s warmth.
Unfortunately that love is very much like most other indulgences; If you like it, there’s very likely something bad about it. The fact of the matter is that freckles indicate over-exposure to the sun. Freckles are skin damage. Albeit, cute skin damage… but it’s still skin damage. As most of us know (because we tried our best with lemon juice and all sorts of other things), there is no official treatment, nor is there a cure for freckles and there’s really no reason for one to exist. In your skin are pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. When they become damaged, they produce a dark pigment, called a freckle. While a freckle is essentially harmless, it should never be ignored because they are a great indicator. They show you that the skin’s natural ability to protect you from the sun’s rays has reached it’s max. It’s your body’s way of telling you, “Hey! Damage is occurring! Stop what you’re doing and fix the problem before it gets worse!”

Darkened skin, however beautiful it may look- unless it is natural, and what I mean by that is- unless you’re born with it, dark skin is skin damage. It’s a simple fact and there’s no way around it. As beautiful as we might think it is to have a sun kissed tan that looks like you’ve been on the beaches of Hawaii since you were five, or how sweet we think it is that some child has cute little freckles on their nose, all that really is is damaged skin. Damaged skin that could have been avoided if we had just been more careful. Even people with darker skin naturally can get sun damage, skin cancer and need to protect themselves.
In our house, this is taken very seriously.
The reason why I take this so seriously is because I read a frightening statistic that changed the way I did everything outdoors with my kids.
I learned that the majority of skin cancer patients received the damage that caused their cancer before they were 18 years old. I also learned that in many cases, skin cancer appears on the hands, feet and head because people often forget to put sunblock on these areas.
I believe that this fact puts a tremendous responsibility on me as a parent to ensure that I do everything I can to protect my children from that situation later in life. This is one of those cases where really is up to me to prevent my children from suffering later on.
Every day, if we are going to be out in the sun for longer than 10 minutes I put sunblock on Liam’s hands, his arms, his face and any exposed area. Before Lottie was six months old I put her in long sleeve shirts and would only let her outside with a hat on, or she was covered from the sun with a blanket.
Now that she can wear sunblock I put it on her head and any exposed skin. I do this every time she goes outside because her skin is so fair that even five minutes in direct sunlight would do damage. If they get wet, I put it on again even if the bottle says it’s waterproof.
Because a baby’s skin is so translucent, you have to be extra careful. The damage goes much deeper than an adult’s skin. The melanin (the layer that has pigment and is there to protect you from the sun) is the only thing that protects a baby and if you’ve got a parchment-white child like I do, even a few minutes in the sun without extra protection is dangerous.
I do my best to follow the recommendations given to me by my doctor and most medical websites regarding this topic. I reapply no longer than every two hours. Yes it’s inconvenient, yes they don’t like it, yes everyone thinks I’m crazy and no, I don’t care.
When I was very young around eight or nine years old, I went to the beach with my family. I hardly remember this, so I had to ask my mom about it to fill in the details, all I remember was it hurt and I got sick, missing out on some ocean fun.  As the story goes, I played outside in the water and on the beach all day long. It was a cloudy day, comfortable, not too chilly. That afternoon I came into the motor-home and noticed that when I scratched my shoulder it stung. Within the next hour I had turned a deep shade of magenta all over my body. I had a fever, I couldn’t sit down without crying, I couldn’t lie down without it hurting and I remember being freezing cold inside and hot like fire on the outside.  My mom gave me a painkiller and put me in a nightgown with long sleeves and I remember driving away from the ocean to find a grocery store so that she could buy me something to make it feel better while lying still as I could on the bed. I don’t remember much more of that trip, but I’m guessing I probably got up and kept playing after the Tylenol kicked in and very likely acted like nothing was wrong. Because that’s what I always did with everything. 🙂  But I remember that trip, I remember the burn and I remember hearing someone say, (don’t remember who) something about how, because it was cloudy, sunblock seemed unnecessary.

I’ve had many sunburns since then, some due to accident and some due to laying out too long without any protection. Back then, (in the 80’s) people didn’t understand how dangerous the sun really was. Sunblock was something that was good to prevent painful sunburns, but it didn’t really cross anyone’s mind that the sunburns could cause cancer later in someone’s life. Once the sunburn was gone, the fear of any danger was gone, too and most people were destined to repeat it multiple times.

Today I am in my 30’s. I’ve been to the dermatologist twice in the last year because of strange spots that continue to appear on my skin,
even though I have consistently worn sunblock no less than SPF 30 since I was 17 years old.
So far, I have been very lucky. The spots that I have found are not dangerous, but the doctor has made it clear that they are not dangerous “yet”. He has let me know that they are indicators of a potential problem in the future and I now have regularly scheduled appointments with him on a yearly basis just to make sure.  He reiterates what I already know and apply to my children; Sunblock should be a part of your daily routine of getting dressed. If you’re out in direct sunlight for longer than an hour, you must reapply.
I’m not doing this to my children because I’m paranoid. I don’t make them endure the few minutes of rubbing this stuff that they hate all over them just because I might have an anxiety attack if I don’t. I don’t do it because I think it makes me mother of the year or because I’m trying to be better at it than someone else.  I do this because I don’t want them to have to look at their skin in the mirror when they are 36 years old and wonder if a sunburn they got when they were 10 is going to give them cancer.  I have the power to prevent it.

The way I see parenting is I’ve been given a perfect, flawless canvas to care for and protect. I have no right mucking it up just because I’m too lazy to do the right thing.  Once they are adults, if they choose to muck it up on their own, I have only the lessons I taught them to guide them and hope they don’t do the wrong thing, but at that point, it’ll be their choice.  Until then, I do my best to keep them safe in all capacities.

Now, let me be clear about this- I don’t blame my mother for this situation I’m in… back then, no one really cared because no one really knew how bad it was.  But we know better NOW and it’s our job to do better because we know better. Period.

I understand that as “the cautious mom” I might seem a little crazy.
It’s okay, you don’t have to take my word for it if you think I’m a little over the top.
Here’s some information from the CDC;

http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/children.htm
(Paraphrased info from the link) – “Don’t wait to apply sunscreen until you see skin darkening or turning pink. Unprotected skin can be damaged by the suns rays in as little as 15 minutes. You may not see that damage until 12 hours later. If skin looks a little pink it may very well be too late.”
They say typically, children receive the most skin damage when they are out in the sun longer than expected. This is why I keep sunblock in the car in my purse in the diaper bag and at home.
If I suddenly discovered that a quick trip to the yard to water a plant is turning into an hour-long event,
watering every flower and saying hello to every bug in the garden… I don’t wait longer than five minutes before I put sunblock on.
Any time I leave them with someone during the day, I expect that they will be taking them outside. I fully explain to whomever it is that they need to apply sunblock if they’re going outside- yes, even if it’s just for a minute. I tell them where the sun block is I usually put it out on the table and make sure that they understand that it is something that is important.

Here’s some statistics for you-

http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/statistics/
“Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will account for more than 76,600 cases of invasive skin cancer in 2013. It accounts for more than 9,000 of the 12,000-plus skin cancer deaths each year.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. The following statistics refer to melanomas of the skin. Non-epithelial skin cancers, which are not reflected below, represent 7% of skin cancers that are tracked by central cancer registries. These statistics also do not include data for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, which are not tracked by central cancer registries.
In 2009 (the most recent year numbers are available)—
61,646 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, including 35,436 men and 26,210 women.*†
9,199 people in the United States died from melanomas of the skin, including 5,992 men and 3,207 women.*†
*Incidence counts cover approximately 90% of the U.S. population; death counts cover approximately 100% of the U.S. population. Use caution when comparing incidence and death counts.
What are the risk factors for skin cancer?
Risk factors include:
Unprotected and/or excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation (sunlight or tanning booths)
Pale skin (easily sunburned, doesn’t tan much or at all, natural red or blond hair)
Occupational exposures to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds, or radium
You or other members of your family have had skin cancers
Multiple or unusual moles
Severe sunburns in the past”

Here’s a link on the ABC’s of skin and why we need to keep it safe-
http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/outdoor/sun_safety.html#

These Important Sunscreen Facts will help you make the best and healthiest choice in sun protection!
http://blog.mineral-makeup-reviews.com/sunscreen-facts

As an aside, I am personally checking into powderd, Zinc Oxide Sunscreen. It’s becoming more and more popular especially in the health and fitness world. Zinc Oxide is a mineral, and apparently the FDA approves it for use on babies, so it’s worth looking into. I’m considering buying some just to try it out… check it out;

http://www.ilovegoscreen.com/learn/how-mineral-powder-sunscreen-works.php

I’m also a huge fan of SPF clothing although unfortunately most of it is a little out of my price range, personally. If you can get it- I highly recommend it!

Covering up is a huge component of protection. The doctors always say that sunblock is not an excuse to stay exposed longer- you must take additional measures by wearing hats, long sleeves and staying out of direct sunlight when possible.
And a bit more info on Sunblock/Sunscreen and how to choose the best option for you:

http://www.melanomafoundation.org/prevention/facts.htm

“The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) displayed on the sunscreen label ranges from 2 to as high as 50 and refers to the product’s ability to screen or block out the sun’s harmful rays. For example, if you use a sunscreen with an SPF 15, you can be in the sun 15 times longer that you can without sunscreen before burning. Consumers need to be aware that SPF protection does not increase proportionally with an increased SPF number. While an SPF of 2 will absorb 50% of ultraviolet radiation, an SPF of 15 absorbs 93% and an SPF of 34 absorbs 97%.”

And here is a fun quiz for you to test your knowledge and maybe learn a few new things!

http://www.webmd.com/beauty/sun/rm-quiz-sun-myths-facts

Okay that’s all I have to say on this for now. I don’t want to make people feel bad or feel like they’ve done something wrong here, because I am right there with ya in the “could always do better” boat. My hope is that we can each do our part to prevent a potentially devastating outcome for our children. Pointing out the issue isn’t so I can shake my finger any anyone (except maybe myself)- it’s only to help people understand WHY this is so important.

I had a friend who used to snowboard a lot when he was a teenager and he ended up with skin cancer in his early 20’s because he NEVER used protection of any kind. Thankfully, he was able to have it cured, but I don’t think a day goes by where he doesn’t do better by himself now and use sunblock even if the only place he’s going is from his house, to the car, to work and back.

Cancer changes you, it changes your friends, your family and beyond that, it can kill you. If you can prevent your child from that fate, wouldn’t you do it, even if it’s not the most convenient thing to do?

Happy summer, mamas… stay cautious! ❤

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