Why you should protect yourself from the sun

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Summer is all about fun. Fun at the beach. Fun at the pool. Fun playing sports with friends. In short, fun in the sun. So why do your parents always have to spoil the fun by nagging you to "put on some sunscreen"? And what kid hasn't whined back, "Why do I hafta?"

We at KidsPost would never answer "Because we told you so, young lady!" Instead, we've put together this page, just in time for summer fun, to explain why sun protection is so important and what you can do this summer to keep Mom's nagging -- and your whining -- to a minimum.

Sunlight has all kinds of positive effects: It supports life on Earth; it helps your body produce Vitamin D, which is important for growth; and it just makes you happy. But the sun also gives off dangerous ultraviolet radiation that is invisible to the human eye. These UV rays penetrate your skin -- without your feeling it -- and cause a chemical reaction that can damage your skin cells.

The immediate result of too much sun exposure, of course, is sunburn. But skin cells are also affected by UV rays even when you don't get burned, and these effects can build up over time.

If your skin cells are regularly exposed to UV radiation, your skin will start to look older and more wrinkled than it should for your age. (This is called premature aging.) In some cases, long-term unprotected exposure to the sun can lead to serious skin conditions, including skin cancer.

Starting the sunscreen habit when you're young is important, according to Suraj S. Venna, a skin doctor at the Washington Hospital Center. "People receive at least 50 percent of their cumulative UV exposure by the time they are 18," he said.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Dr. Venna has several tips for kids that we've included here. Start by never complaining about sunscreen -- you need it!

-- Margaret Webb Pressler

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