Not all sunscreens are created equal

Just for kids


It's time to slather on the sunscreen. But any old brand won't do, even if it's an SPF15 (the sun protection factor experts recommend to block out the most dangerous ultra-violet rays) or higher. Recent studies show that we've been underrating the power of those rays.

How so? UV rays are divided into two spectrums: UVA (which has two ranges, I and II) and UVB. "Up until recently, we've focused our attention on combating UVA II and UVB rays, because we thought UVA I rays were harmless," says Dr. James Leyden, dermatology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. But a 1995 study showed that UVA I rays, which penetrate glass and are absorbed through windows, are a main cause of wrinkling and may cause melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

That means we need to protect ourselves from the whole spectrum of UV rays, and most sunscreens don't do that. Just last spring, the only known chemical that can deliver protection against all UV rays was approved for use in the United States and is now in some sunscreens. It's called avobenzone, and its brand name is Parsol 1789.

Two other ingredients that offer superior coverage from the rays are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, Leyden says. Many products now combine two or all three because "every ingredient has different limitations."

Sunscreen alone isn't enough to protect your hide from the damaging effects of the sun, says University of Iowa dermatologist Roger Ceilley. Kids need to do other things to guard against sun damage, like wear protective hats and sunglasses or seek shade 'til 4 p.m.

Think putting on sunscreen for recess or gym class is extreme? Consider this: According to the American Academy of Dermatology, children get 80 percent of their lifetime sun by age 18, and even a few bad sunburns during childhood can increase the risk of melanoma.

Plus, in Australia, where skin cancer is so epidemic that sun safety is a major government issue, kids are required to wear hats and sunscreen for recess.

c 1997 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight-Ridder/Tribune, Inc.

Pub Date: 06/10/99

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