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The Family Sun Shielder: My Best Sun Safety Advice

Julie Schultz, MD, ACMC-Willmar, Dermatology

All summer I worry about my fair-skinned children. I worry about long-term damage: the wrinkles, leathery skin and skin cancers that I see every day on my middle-aged and older patients. Minnesota summers are too short, after all, and who wants to bother with sun protection?

Keeping My Family Safe in the Sun

Professionally, I advise wearing long-sleeved clothing and full-brimmed hats when you're outside. But people, especially kids, hate sunblock. It stings the eyes; it's messy; and it stains clothes and upholstery. People don't use enough and forget to reapply it. One summer at the lake, when my kids were too young to protest, our family looked like the Blue Man Group in our matching, skin-tight, full-body swimwear.

Those days are gone, and I've learned to compromise. Now we all just wear long-sleeved swim-shirts over our suits. Fortunately, these "rash guards" are in fashion so everyone can pick their style (we don't have to match). I'm also firm about sunblock on the face. Getting my children to apply it takes diligence on the part of my husband and myself. My daughter grudgingly applies it in stick form so it won't run into her eyes. My son wears a baseball cap and also resists sunblock. My husband dislikes hats of any sorts. I wear a crushable, wide-brimmed cotton hat. We outfitted our boat with a canopy that keeps us in the shade for at least part of any water outing.

There's one thing I hope my kids avoid at all costs: tanning beds. When springtime arrives—and as proms come and go—I observe many teenagers getting darker by the day. If only they knew the kind of damage they are doing to themselves.

This article was originally published in the February 2014 edition of Minnesota Medicine.