As a mother, I fret over everything. I remind my children to “get back from the television — it will ruin your eyes!” and to “cut that into smaller pieces — it will get lodged in your throat!” I fuss. I repeat. I worry.
I’m concerned about middle school cliques and high school boys. I’m anxious about an orthodontist’s bill for braces. I react to every thump and bump that I hear upstairs, shouting “WHAT HAPPENED!?” each time a doll or toy falls off the bed. I shout the phrase “be careful” as if it’s a magical spell that will protect my daughters from things that require staples, stitches and slings.
But then I take them to the pool and let them soak up four hours of summer sun.
I must be out of my mind not to be scared out of my skin about the possibilities of cancer. I sit in the same place every day the rays are out in full force, next to other parents who engage in the same risky behavior. We pull our chairs closer together and start chatting about this, that and the other…eventually making our way back to a regular topic: melanoma.
It’s ironic…we pose before the sun during the hottest, most dangerous time of the day — 11:00 a.m, when the pool opens until 3:00 p.m. when the lifeguards announce “ADULT SWIM!” — and we talk about skin cancer. We point to the dark spots that make us nervous. We show off scars left behind from the last visit to the dermatologist’s office. We discuss loved ones who died from the dreadful disease, and then we get quiet for a few minutes. And then we reach for the Coppertone bottle and inhale deeply: that classic scent of coconut and saltwater. The anxiety rolls back out to sea.
Allowing our kids to be in the sun all day seems like it should be a form of neglect. I guess we’re not such horrible mothers if we nag at them to stay out of the water for 15 minutes while the lotion soaks in, or if we make our fair-haired tots wear rash guards with built-in SPF to give them more coverage under the harmful rays. I guess we’re not going to be investigated by Child Protection Services if we spend $9 every three days on new cans of sunscreen that can be applied when their skin is wet from the last 80 minutes of splashing, good fun.
But it only takes one burn to cause long-term damage.
According to virtually every website related to the issue, sunscreens provide some safety by blocking the sun’s rays on the skin. The higher the sun protection factor number, the greater the protection. But no sunscreen totally blocks the sun’s rays. In fact, the FDA recently announced significant changes to sunscreen products that will help consumers decide how to buy and use it. Sunscreens must equally protect against UVB and UVA rays, but can no longer claim to be “sweatproof” or “waterproof,” as both feats are impossible.
Impossible? But…the product is called Water Babies!
After extensive FDA research, scientists reveal that sunscreen never was waterproof. Manufacturers are guilty of false advertising. Similarly, calling a sunscreen “sunblock” will no longer be allowed. Instead, sunscreens will be permitted to promote they are “water-resistant,” but labels must indicate the exact length of time that promise holds up.
So if we aren’t protecting our kids as much as we previously thought, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips when going to the beach or the park, for that matter:
- If your child is turning pink, then it’s time to go in. At this point, a burn is developing and it will show up within the next 12 hours.
- Tan skin means damaged skin, so take measures to cover as much of the body as possible. Hats, surf shirts, longer trunks for boys; tank suits for girls.
- Cloudy days still present harmful exposure. Remember sunscreen on dreary days, too.
- Seek shelter by bringing along pop-up tents, cabanas, umbrellas, or other types of portable shade.
The only way to stay safe is to stay out of the sun, even if it is a form of vitamin D in the sky. But if you gave birth to fish as I did, then you’ll have to take a few chances if you want your kids to get some exercise and enjoy their summer vacation. I guess all we can do is turn up our iPods to drown out the worries. George Harrison will say it’s all right.