Op-Ed

Can't overstate need for sun protection

During 32 years of dermatologic practice, I have treated thousands of cases of inadvertent sunburn. Almost all of these cases have been ones in which the patients have ”forgotten sunscreen“ or thought that a sun protection factor of, say, 2 or 4 would be sufficient to alter their skin pigmentation without inducing damage.

In one case, a young mother called in a panic to report that her daughter was ”violently allergic to her sunscreen.“

Since I had recommended the sunscreen, I asked her to report immediately to the office. The girl actually did have a blistered burn on her back, but amazingly, the burn was only in the areas where she had not applied sunscreen.

This amply demonstrated sunscreen effectiveness to the then young dermatologist new to practice.

At my very first Kentucky Rolex Three-Day Event in 1978, I was horrified to see a shirtless toddler being led around the Horse Park on a ”child leash,“ or harness, by his parent, who blithely wandered about the exhibits while child, ivory white on one side, grew intensely burned on the other.

I luckily escaped being smacked by the parent when I offered some of my own sunscreen and advised a shirt and some shade. That was in the day when that kind of advice was more appreciated than resented.

Since that time, I have been pleasantly surprised by the gradual shift in American ethic of ”who can acquire the darkest tan this summer“ to the reaction of some sensible and reasonable young people who showed up in my office 10 to 20 years after such an admonition with smooth, unwrinkled, non-leathery skin.

On the other hand, over those same years, we have had to contend with the astounding damage imparted by the tanning booths that are ubiquitous here in Central Kentucky and around the world.

We dermatologists can spot a user of such machines by their leathery skin, splotchy skin pigmentation, wrinkles and increased numbers of moles prodded evermore toward melanomas by ultraviolet exposure.

So the recent story of Bobby Jones and his child is a two-edged sword. On one hand, it is a terrible incident for the child, who now must contend with up to a doubled risk of melanoma during life. On the other hand, unfortunate incidents of this nature are attracting national and international attention to the destructive effects of sun exposure on human skin.

We must protect children with sun-protective clothing, sunblocks and shade throughout their early lives in order for them to (very happily) put dermatologists out of the cancer-treatment pathway.

Nothing would make us dermatologists happier.

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