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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

The Sunburn Epidemic

Our dacha is near the ocean in the southern part of the United States and every year, we see scores of tourists, not to mention locals, who are bright, beet red from the sun.  Not smart.

I thought that, by now, everyone in the whole wide world knew that one bad burn during childhood (or later) doubled a person’s chance of later contracting cancer.  I thought that everyone knew not to go out in the sun during the peak hours of the day, say, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, if not avoiding prolonged sun exposure during any daylight hours, or the midnight sun in those northern regions.  And the light of the moon and the shine of streetlights, just to be safe.  It would probably pay for me to avoid the little light on the inside of the refrigerator, as well.

Even those who are uber-vigilant are finding themselves blindsided by those who don’t know, and don’t care about too much sun.  Rita Arens wrote in her blog, “When Your Kid’s Camp Doesn’t Take Sunscreen Seriously” (http://www.blogher.com/pics-wtf-america-kids-sunscreen-edition?from=nethed), a heart-wrenching piece about her preteen daughter’s blistering sunburn and the negligence of camp workers.  Take one look at the photos and your heart will drop.

It reminded me of my son when he was about nine years old.  We sent him to the local aquarium for a few days of day camp, learning about marine life, and swimming with the stingrays.  (This was way before the Crocodile Hunter’s unfortunate demise.  Now, I can’t even imagine….)  What a shock we had when our son came home one day, burnt to a crisp, as they had loaded up everyone on a bus and taken them to the beach.

“We did not give permission for our son to be removed from your premises and transported to be beach to become sunburned,” we informed the camp.

“But we sprayed sunscreen on all of the children,” they protested.

“Apparently not enough.”

We were in shock.  We, who had been so vigilant, now had a son with bright-lobster skin and bleeding nipples-!  This was ridiculous and unconscionable.

From then on, we made the decision:  longsleeved rash guard surfing shirts on every child.  The girls can wear shorts or not, totally up to them, but at least their upper body is protected.  The face is up to them.  For the beach, they have sunscreen specially designed for the face, along with caps, or even better, bucket hats with a small brim protruding all the way around.  But the truth of the matter is, the kids are not going to wear caps in the water.

There’s a pool near us in the north that prohibits any type of rash guard shirts.  The kids went there once and were ordered to remove their shirts.  I’m not sure what the rationale is there, but you know what, I don’t have time to argue with ignorant people.  Last time we visited.

A couple days ago, when I dropped them at camp, I was pleasantly surprised when the final camp form asked our permission for camp workers to apply sunscreen to our children should they require it.  The form asked the specific brand of sunscreen that we were supplying, as well.  Under additional comments I wrote, ‘THANK YOU!”  So surprising and so refreshing for them to partner with the parents.

The truth is, we cannot rely on sunscreen alone.  In the water, it will wash off.  Playing sports, it will sweat off.  Our son, who played tennis for six hours a day at tennis camp during 100+ degree temperatures, had a bit of pink under his eyes (where sunglasses might rub), but he wore his cap every day, unlike some other players.  Plus, the back of his neck was very red, since many drip-dry sports shirts do not have collars like the regular polos.  He actually wore a longsleeved sport shirt one day, everyone laughed at him, and the bemused coach mentioned it to me in disbelief when I picked him up at the end of camp.

“Smart boy,” I nodded, “we take sun protection seriously.”

And this was at a camp where they insisted that the teens reapply sunscreen every hour on the hour.  But the sweat washes it right away.  I went out and bought him bandannas the next week.  He says he would wear a French Foreign Legion style cap on the courts (khaki hat with the flap down the back), but I haven’t gotten around to ordering one.  So far in recent weeks, he’s been playing mostly at night and in the very early morning, or late afternoon.

Believe it or not, you don’t need a sunburn in order to get skin cancer. Any sun exposure more than 5 or 10 minutes in diffused sunlight per day is dangerous.  I can rack that up just getting in and out of the car during my daily routine.   According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), incidence rates for melanoma among white Americans have increased from approximately 8.7 per 100,000 people in 1975 to 25.3 per 100,000 in 2007.

What is not computing?  I think it’s the idea that we’re “safe” with tanning beds, and “safe” if we simply use sunscreen.  Read the studies.  “Safe” and “sun” should not be used in the same sentence.

The fact is, certain sunscreens such as zinc oxide can cause cell and tissue damage because of nanoparticles bypassing the skin.  Other chemical UV blockers are hormone disruptors with their own dangers.  Try to find a sunscreen without these harmful active ingredients….

Public health officials would be wise to post signs in resort areas and at pools worldwide:  “Enjoy fun in the sun, but keep your family safe.  Cover up after 30 minutes.  The sun can kill you.”

Alright, maybe not exactly a “Don’t worry, be happy” message, but there’s an epidemic going on that’s only getting worse.  Let’s love ourselves enough to change our ways.

(Written by someone who laid out for hours and hours as a young person, lathered in baby oil, whose fair skin was often fried bright red.  Older and wiser now.)



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4 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Winnie says:

    oh gosh I can remember my mother and aunt rubbing themselves down with baby oil and idodine! Now both look several years older than their actual age. As a teen I’d hit the pool and in college years the tanning bed for beach vacations and special occasions. Kicking me in the but now as I have brown spots on my face that have come back after two rounds of lasering – will have to do more in winter.
    Now I coat down my face (almost) daily in sunscreen – don’t do it daily as I don’t go outside when it’s hotter than hot lately. Kids get 50.
    I don’t think the tanning culture will actually ever go away as long as there are tan models in swimsuits. Regardless to the fact that the models swear it’s spray tan people want to be tan too. One of the perks of living in the upper midwest is that there is only 3-4 months of warm weather and everybody you know or see is day glow white too with the exception of tanning bed junkies who now pay a nice federal tax to pay for their skin cancer treatment later in life.

  2. avatar hoonew says:

    Ugh! My 11 year old son came back from camp a few years back severely burned. When I complained to the camp director, I got platitudes and indifference. After all those years of religiously applying sunscreen, he had never even been tan, much less burned to blisters, over the next 2 weeks. When I spoke to the guy who was in charge on the overnight trip, expressing my concern about long term health effects, he “knew all about that” since his father had melanoma!?! The poor boy was vomiting when I picked him up (acute radiation sickness) and I should have made a stink right then, but I didn’t see how bad the burn was til we got home. We never went back to that camp!

    • avatar admin says:

      Oh, I’m sorry that happened, hoonew! Terrible, just terrible. I agree that trying to “make” camps care is an uphill battle. Either they get it or they don’t. But if that’s not child endangerment….

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