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There’s No Escaping UV Radiation

UV Safety Awareness Month

July is UV Safety Awareness Month, and while there may be nothing new under the sun when it comes to protecting against damaging ultraviolet rays, Tace Rico, MD, medical director for pediatric dermatology at AdventHealth for Children, believes the observation is worth noting, not only during the month but throughout the year.

When it comes to ultraviolet radiation, “It’s really important because it’s one of those things that affects all of us,” Dr. Rico says. “If you’re out in the sun long enough, no matter how light or dark your skin, chances are you will develop a skin cancer.”

Tace Rico, MD, pediatric dermatologist
Dr. Rico is the medical director for pediatric dermatology at AdventHealth for Children.

Damage exacted by the sun’s burning rays may not show up until years later. “By the time you’ve noticed wrinkles and some things happening, you’ve had 25 or 30 years where you haven’t been as diligent when it comes to using sun protection,” Dr. Rico says. “There’s no going back. But while the damage is done, you can prevent new damage.”

Mineral-based sunblock, containing such ingredients as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, offer immediate, broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Chemical blockers, on the other hand, require a wait time of about 30 minutes before reaching full effectiveness – and that is only if they have been applied correctly, Dr. Rico cautions. You may be applying sunscreen with an SPF 50, for example, but “if you’re not applying enough over your whole body, you may only be getting 15.” Sunscreen sprays can be particularly challenging when it comes to ensuring adequate application.

That is why, when asked what SPF factor she recommends, Dr. Rico responds with, “The higher the better, especially if you’re not applying it correctly.” But, she adds, “I always say any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen.” Though high temperatures may not intensify UV rays’ effect, increased sweating and, of course, swimming will require more frequent sunscreen application.

Dr. Rico points to the SunSmart program launched in 1981 by the Cancer Council, a leading cancer charity in Australia, as one of the best awareness campaigns with its memorable message: Slip. Slop. Slap. Seek. Slide. Slip on a shirt. Slop on sunscreen. Slap on a hat. Seek shade. Slide on wraparound sunglasses.

For those who may be tempted to forego sunscreen because it’s cloudy or the UV index is low to zero, Dr. Rico cautions that UV exposure should always be a consideration, not just at the beach but every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ultraviolet rays can reach you on cloudy and cool days and through windows, especially car windows. UV rays also reflect off surfaces like water, cement, sand and snow, intensifying the effect.

While the sun’s role as a provider of vitamin D is often touted, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends obtaining the vitamin, which is associated with bone health, through diet and/or supplements.

Are there other health benefits? “Not really,” says Dr. Rico. “None that makes it worth getting sunburned.”

For those who may find themselves a little sun-crisped, in addition to beating a hasty retreat from the sun, Dr. Rico suggests tried-and-true remedies like aloe, a cool shower and ibuprofen for pain. More severe symptoms require close monitoring in case further treatment is indicated.

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