Read this if you have…

Fair-Skinned Nieces and Nephews

Originally published on Savvy Auntie.

Summer is fast-approaching, Auntie. This means that it’s once again time to break out the sunscreen and start protecting your young nieces and nephews from overexposure to the sun. A recent study utilizing UV photographic technology has unveiled “hidden signs of sun damage” in middle schoolers, evidence of UV exposure that could raise their risk for melanoma later in life. The UV technology used in the study can identify those who are most vulnerable to the effects of overexposure to the sun and may be helpful in discouraging young teenagers from spending too much time outdoors or seeking that perfect summer tan.

The photographs developed in the study reveal “mottled pigmentation” or dark spots and freckles, clear indicators of sun damage that are not visible to the naked eye. According to the study’s co-author, Dr. Robert Dellavalle, those whose photographs exhibited a greater, marked presence of this invisible freckling had a higher risk for skin cancer: “When you have lots of moles, have blue eyes or are a redhead – all things we know are associated with greater melanoma risk – you have uglier UV photos.” In other words, more spots mean more sun damage, which means a greater risk for cancer. Dr. Dellavalle also added that “because seeing this damage in UV photo form is sort of like meeting your inner zombie, this could be a great tool in getting kids to think about sun safety in a more personal way.”

The biggest surprise that the study brings, Auntie, is that young teenagers are already showing signs of serious sun damage.

The latest study revealed that children from the ages of 11 or 12 with combinations of light-colored skin, blue eyes, red hair, and freckles exhibited more sun damage on their UV photographs than others, which indicated a greater risk for cancer. Researchers photographed the faces of the 585 children with their eyes closed sans sunscreen, make-up, or moisturizer, using standard photography, cross-polarized photography (with filters for blocking unwanted light reflection), and UV photography for comparison. The team of researchers also conducted full-body skin exams of the children, taking note of eye, skin, and hair color as well as the presence of freckles.

In response to the findings, Dr. Ryan Gamble, a current dermatology resident at the University of Colorado Cancer Center in Denver, asserts, “With greater awareness of melanoma and increased use of sun prevention and early detection strategies, much of the occurrence of the disease and its complications can be prevented.” So far, the UV photographic technology has been used to support talks on safe habits and the dangers of overexposure to the sun amongst college students and middle schoolers.

Now would be the perfect opportunity to engage your nieces and nephews in a discussion about sun safety, Auntie. It’s time to show your younger teens and tweens why proper protection from the sun is so important. Apart from the daily reminder to always wear sunscreen and proper clothing before going outdoors, you might consider talking to your nieces and nephews about “broad spectrum” and SPF protection and helping them choose the right kind of sunscreen for them.

Photo: chrisroll

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