Dermatologist Toni McCullough, M.D. calls for attention to be paid to “sun abuse”, equating the dangers to drug abuse and alcohol abuse.
“When it comes to teenagers, risks that may be years down the road seem so far in the future that they are essentially meaningless”, says Dr. McCullough.
Dr. McCullough, a dermatologist in private practice in Savannah, Georgia pointed how awareness of the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol grew as a result of the efforts of Candy Lightner, the founder of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). “As a dermatologist and a mother, I would like to start a movement to make a difference in sun abuse. MELANOMA IS THE MOST COMMON CANCER AGES 25-29! It is the SECOND MOST COMMON CANCER ages 15-29. What does this mean? This means that the young are getting too much sun too early in life. And who should be the ones to protect our young this early in life? PARENTS!!”, pointed out Dr. McCullough.
“Until parents respond to sun abuse seriously, the skin cancer epidemic will continue to spiral out of control. Furthermore, photoaging / sun damage of the skin is going to become more and more important as we continue to live longer. Changes in the ozone and environment may be causing us to get more damage per unit of time per area now than ever before. Why do we as parents allow our children to abuse the sun without accountability and without retribution?”
Dr. McCullough referred to studies to show that the incidence of sunburns is higher in people with higher education to show that “education is not working with regards to sun abuse (just like education was not enough with drunk drivers).” She added that “some form of accountability and discipline when young may be the only way to “teach” and decrease sun abuse.
“Parents discipline and even punish their kids for doing drugs, drinking alcohol, drinking and driving, smoking, having premarital unprotected sex, not doing homework, making poor grades in school, not wearing seatbelts etc. What if mom and dad said, “We’re sorry but we told you not to abuse the sun, to be careful, wear sunblock, wear a hat, cover up, etc. You were not careful enough and are sunburned so you’re not going to the party tonight.” If this happened, kids would be more responsible with sun exposure. When I was young, I myself baked in the sun. I have already had precancerous lesions and cancerous lesions. I was not properly educated and was not held accountable by my otherwise strict parents for my behavior in the sun.”
“Oh it’s not as serious as drugs and sex and alcohol… or is it? Teens going to tanning beds are now developing melanomas which are deadly! Yes, sun abuse can damage and even kill you”, pointed out Dr. McCullough.
She made the following suggestions to help reduce exposure to the sun’s damaging UV rays.
- Slip! Slop! Slap! – Slip on a shirt (dark color, tightly woven fabric). Slop on sunscreen (broad spectrum with high numbers are better). Slap on a hat (best to shade face, neck, ears).
- Remember the best defense is to COVER UP with clothing (SPF clothing is best). Be aware that a white T-shirt only offers a SPF of 4. Sunscreen should be your LAST line of defense (clothing & hats are best).
- Avoid midday sun (10AM to 4PM).
- Shadow rule – If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s ultraviolet rays are intense. Seek shade.
- Wear sunglasses that block UV rays and protect surrounding tender skin.
- Proper sunscreens should be chosen, applied, and cared for properly. Sunscreens degrade in heat and sun. Studies show our sunscreen application is too thin resulting in products only delivering about half of the SPF noted on the bottle.
- Adequate SPF –Choose the high numbers to help make up for imperfect application.
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with adequate UVA protection
- Adequate application – one ounce for the entire body
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside & reapply often.
- Avoid tanning beds.
Toni McCullough, M.D. also pointed out that the following groups and organizations play an important role in reducing sun abuse.
- Parents – There must be education by setting a good example as well as accountability and punishment for sun abuse.
- Schools – Shaded areas are needed regardless of the cost.
- Teachers – Formal sun education is needed in schools. Teachers (often tanners themselves) need to set examples.
- Recreational centers – Shaded areas need to be developed. Peak sun hours should be avoided for activities.
- Coaches – Help kids protect themselves from the sun while playing sports.
- Automobile manufacturers – We need total UVB and UVA protection in car windows.
- Beauty magazines – We need to change the concept of beauty. Americans still think a tan makes you look healthier, thinner, and more beautiful. Sarah Brown , Beauty Editor at Vogue, has had a healthy influence on women’s beauty and her dedication to helping women understand the dangers of sun damage.
- Legislators – We need help with enforcing shade and sun education in schools / recreational facilities. Tanning bed facilities need to stop advertising to the young and should in fact be closed.