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Friday, July 1, 2022

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SPF Momma

Summer is in full-swing, which for many families means more time outside and on vacation. I love being outside with my family, but after yet another round of surgery to remove basal cell carcinomas from my face, I know how important it is to protect your skin from the sun. Even more importantly, we need teach our kids what I didn’t know growing up — use sunscreen!

Let me add that my mom was not neglecting me. She simply didn’t know then what we know now. Studies now show that all it takes is one blistering sunburn to dramatically increase your chances of skin cancer. That would have been shocking news when I was growing up. It was a culture of sunbathing and working on your tan! As a teenager in South Florida, I embraced that culture! There were days when my family just lost track of time during outings. I recall that we packed a picnic and enjoyed the beach all afternoon. When we came home, my skin was bright pink and felt hot. I remember how cold the air conditioning felt as I came inside and crawled into my bed looking for relief. I shivered under my covers for most of the night. It was a blistering, peeling sunburn on my face and torso. It’s that sunburn that comes to mind each time I receive the diagnosis of basal cell carcinomas.

Now, as the mom of a 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, I absolutely enjoy the struggle of getting sunscreen on my children! (Hear the sarcasm?) Putting sunscreen on my children a few years ago was like wrestling a pig in a puddle of mud! I’d lay my babies down only to have them wiggle and flip over! That was followed by tears, which of course caused the lotion to drip down their cheeks! Now I need to reapply the sunscreen since their tears may have washed the first lathering away. Ugh! Not again!

A few times my children’s eyes got poked because they wouldn’t stop shaking their heads back and forth! Then there were the games of chase me around the living room and catch me if you can! One time my son asked, “Do we have to put on sunscreen to go to the park? If we do, I don’t want to go!”

With the magnificent invention of sunscreen spray, things got a whole lot easier! Our kids would giggle (instead of crying) over how cold the spray felt on their skin. Getting the sunscreen lotion on their faces always took some convincing. Still does.

Over the years, the kids have seen me go through several skin surgeries. My husband and I didn’t want to scare the kids, but they were curious when they saw my bandages. We told them the truth on a level they could understand. Why I had the surgery, why I had to wear the bandages and why mommy had scars — because I didn’t wear sunscreen.

I’m happy to say our children have started to make the connection and understand why mommy and daddy are so strict about sunscreen. Scars can be covered with makeup, but there’s no covering my fear of skin cancer. We don’t want our children to go through what I have gone through.

Today, only small scars remain. When I am home with my family, I don’t wear makeup and they can see them. I’ve learned to think of them as little reminders to be careful in the sun. Even on cloudy days and during the cooler months, we all wear sunscreen.

In the spirit of full mommy disclosure, the truth is our kids still don’t like to put on sunscreen and we don’t always apply the sunscreen perfectly. Recently, I made the mistake of reapplying sunscreen too close to the time my son went back in the water. It didn’t have a chance to sink in. Later that night he said, “Mom, my back hurts and kinda itches.” I looked at the minor sunburn (his first), which turned into patches of dry, flaky skin a few days later. It makes me cringe and I feel so guilty for letting them down. I try to remind myself that we are doing the best we can.

My husband recently took my son to buy swim trunks with matching swim shirts with built in SPF! That’s right! They provide the equivalent of SPF 50! We’re still in negotiations with our daughter. The feminine swimsuits still have the upper hand with her!

Here’s the good news. The kids don’t fight the lathering up like they used to last summer. They know it’s important. My daughter recently said, “You are putting this on so I don’t get boo boos on my face.” Yes! On another outing my son said, “You didn’t use sunscreen when you were a kid and that’s why you had to have doctors fix your skin.” Yes! I am so glad our children are learning from my mistakes. If only more of life’s lessons could be learned so painlessly!


Kid Friendly Prevention

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. More than 3.5 million cases are diagnosed each year. The American Cancer Society’s awareness campaign, Slip, Slop, Slap & Wrap, is a fun way to talk to your children about sun protection.

Slip on a shirt.

Some clothes give more protection than others. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, or long skirts are the best. Dark colors are better than light colors. A tightly woven fabric protects better than loosely woven clothing. If you can see light through a fabric, UV rays can get through, too. Dry fabric is most often better than wet fabric.

Slop on sunscreen.

Use sunscreen and lip balm. Broad spectrum products (which protect against different types of UV rays) with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more are recommended. Be sure to use enough (a palmful) and put it on again every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating. Use sunscreen even on hazy or days with light or broken cloud cover because UV rays still come through.

Slap on a hat.

A hat with at least a 2- to 3-inch brim all around is best because it protects areas often exposed to the sun, such as the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp. A shade cap (which looks like a baseball cap with about 7 inches of fabric draping down the sides and back) also is good.

Wrap on sunglasses.

Wrap-around sunglasses that absorb at least 99% of the UV rays help protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes.

Source: American Cancer Society,


Shay Ryan is a meteorologist for ABC Action News.

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