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http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/image/9709/solprom1_eit_big.jpg Protecting your Child's Skin from
Ultraviolet Radiation and Sunburn


Introduction
Sun Protection Terms
Solar Information
Factors Affecting Skin Damage from Sunlight
Prevention and Treatment of UV Damage
Tanning Studios/Salons, are they safe?
A Final Note
References


Introduction
Traditionally, a good tan was (and still is) often associated with a healthy, fit appearance, while a pale demeanor denoted sickness and poor conditioning. The persistent quest for the ultimate tan, according to Potts (1990), could be the main reason for the six-fold increase in incidence of melanoma in the past 50 years. Currently there are some 600,000 nonmelanoma skin cancers reported per year in the United States (Hoeger, 1991). Nearly all of these cases are related to over exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. While the prognosis of skin cancer is usually very good, certain types like basal cell carcinoma (the most prevalent type) can be deforming, and malignant melanoma can be deadly. In either case, prevention, and/or early detection are critical for maintaining a healthy skin (Margen, 1991).

Sun Protection Terms
Angstrom Unit-- "nm" -- a unit of length, equal to one tenth of a millimicron; or one ten millionth of a millimeter, primarily used to express electromagnetic wavelengths.

Melanoma -- malignant skin tumor that contains abnormal amounts of melanin that make it appear dark-colored.

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) -- A fair skinned individual, if exposed to sunlight, would normally sunburn in approximately 10 minutes. A SPF of "4" simply means that when applying this sun screen lotion it will take 4 times the normal duration to burn, or 10 X 4 = 40 minutes.

Ultraviolet -- beyond the violet in the spectrum, corresponding to light having wave lengths shorter than 4000 angstrom units.


Solar Information
Sunlight is a potent source of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The UV spectrum is divided into three types of UV light, each with its unique properties:

Ultraviolet A (UV-A) -- considered as the safest ultraviolet light (320-400 nm) since it causes tanning with no burning (except in extreme quantities). While UV-A alone is a very weak carcinogen, it penetrates more deeply into the skin than UV-B and it is directly related to the skin changes associated with aging. Unlike UV-B, UV-A can penetrate through glass and clouds and the tan it produces won't protect against sunburn.

Ultraviolet B (UV-B) -- practically the worst type of UV light to the skin. Ultraviolet B (290-320 nm) causes sunburn, facilitates aging of skin, and is related to skin cancer. Some of the UV-B is filtered by the earth's atmosphere and all of it is blocked by window glass.

Ultraviolet C (UV-C) -- not present in sunlight as it is filtered by the ozone layer. Ultraviolet C (200-290 nm) would be extremely damaging to any life form on earth. UV-C is used in germicidal lamps to exterminate bugs, flies, and mosquitoes. The fear of UV-C has prompted many scientists, in recent years, to warn against the fast corrosion in the atmosphere's ozone layer.


Factors Affecting Skin Damage from Sunlight
  • Time during daylight -- As much as 60% of the UV-B reaching the earth on a given day, does so between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
  • Winter vs Summer -- The sunniest day of the year--June 20th is more than 15 times stronger in UV-B than the least sunny day of the year--December 20th.
  • Altitude -- UV-B increases by some 5% for each 1,000 feet elevation in altitude (The thinner air filters less UV-B).
  • Humidity -- Humid air or wet skin promote faster burning.
  • Wind -- Windy conditions lead to quicker burning, and combined with water can be even more damaging to skin.
  • Reflection -- Snow reflects up to 30% of UV-B , sand and water can reflect as much as 10-20%.
  • Suntan oils -- facilitate increased penetration of UV-B and thus promote more rather than less damage to skin.
  • Clothing -- Thicker and dyed fabric provides better sun protection. Garments that let plenty of light through, when held up to a light bulb, will allow the penetration of a large percentage of UV-B (Margen, 1991).
  • Type of skin -- Several pigments, most notably melanin, that act as filters of UV radiation, are produced in the inner epidermal layers. The production of melanin in the epidermis is significantly enhanced with increased exposure to sunlight. Melanosomes (melanin-storage packages), triggered by melanocytes, react to UV exposure by increasing production of melanin. Both fair and dark complexion individuals' skin contains equal numbers of melanocytes. The numbers and size of melanosomes in the melanocytes, however, differ significantly between fair and dark skins. Larger and more numerous melanocytes provide the dark complexion person with a much more potent sun protection (Potts, 1990).


  • Prevention and Treatment of UV Damage
    To minimize the risks of UV light over exposure:
    • plan your workouts before 10:00 a.m. or after 3:00 p.m.
    • Dress appropriately (i.e., wear a hat, sunglasses etc).
    • Use an FDA approved sunscreen, preferably with a SPF 15 if you tan or burn easily. For optimal performance sunscreens need to be applied at least 30 minutes before UV exposure to allow skin binding.
    • There is mounting evidence that UV light is directly related to eye damage. Therefore, a good pair of sun- glasses seems like a good investment. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) developed in 1986 a rating system for UV light absorption by sunglasses. When purchasing shades look for the tag that states whether the lens meet or exceed "ANSI Z80.3" requirements (HMS Health Letter, July 1990).


    Treating acute sunburn
    Contrary to common belief, sunburns cannot be fixed with special "after-sun" type lotions. Therefore, the best thing that can be done for an acute sunburn is to try to relieve the symptoms. Applying cold compresses to affected area, soaking affected body parts in cold water, and taking oral analgesics (e.g., aspirin), according to Potts (1990), are the most effective measures to relieve sunburn pain.

    Tanning Studios/Salons, are they safe?

    According to Dr. Doug Pierce, chief of dermatology Services at the Veteran Administration Hospital in Gainesville, Florida "Tanning booths do damage to the skin, and the eyes can be permanently damaged without proper protection. The light emitted by tanning lamps (UV-A) is somewhat safer (than the sun), but it still can damage the skin." In addition, tanning lamps can aggravate certain skin diseases and suppress the immune system if exposure to UV-A exceeds 30 minutes (Corbin & Lindsey, 1991).

    A FINAL NOTE
    Damage caused by solar exposure is both dose-related and cumulative throughout a l ifetime. Children and older individuals are the most vulnerable members of society to UV light. Noticeable skin changes occur later in life, but in fact, invisible changes (i.e., damage to epidermal cells, melanocytes, dermal collagen, blood vessels) start with the very first sunburn. The process of tanning is the organism's natural adjustment to the UV inflicted cell damage. An existing deep tan provides good protection against future sun damage. The acquisition of a deep tan, however, causes cumulative permanent harm to the skin.

    References:
    Corbin, C. B., & Lindsey, R. (1991). Concepts of physical fitness with laboratories (7th ed.). Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown.

    Fahey, T. D., Insel, P. M., & Roth, W. T. (1999). Fit & well: Core concepts and labs in physical fitness and wellness (3rd ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.

    Floyd, P. A., Mimms, S. E., &Yelding-Howard, C. (1998). Personal health: Perspectives & lifestyles (2nd ed.). Englewood, CO: Morton.

    Harvard Medical School Health Letter (1990). Sun and shades. 15 (9), July.

    Hoeger, W. W. K. (1994). Principles and labs for physical fitness and wellness (3nd ed.). Englewood, CO: Morton.

    Margen, S. (Ed.) (1991). University of California, Berkeley: The wellness encyclopedia. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

    Potts, J. F. (1990, June). Sunlight, sunburn, and sunscreens. Postgraduate Medicine, 87, 52-63.

    Additional Readings

    American Cancer Society (1987). Cancer Facts and Figures. New York: The Society.

    Consumer Reports (1986). New shades of risk at tanning salons. February, 73.

    DeBenedette, V. (1987). Health tanning booths: Risky business. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 15, 59.


    We organize the league, administer practice, supervise the games, etc...because the kids are too young to to do it on their own. They need our guidance, help, and protection.

    So PLEASE let's protect the kids!
Copyright© 1996-2000, Daniel Frankl, Ph.D.

questions and/or comments; thank you!

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Last Modified: May 25, 2000