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Limit kids' sun, even with lotion

Published June 12, 2007


WASHINGTON - Shade your kids. Strong new evidence suggests overall sun exposure in childhood, not just burns, is a big key to who later develops deadly skin cancer.

The news comes as the government is finishing long-awaited rules to improve sunscreens.

The Food and Drug Administration wants sunscreens to be rated not just for how well they block the ultraviolet-B rays that cause sunburn - today's SPF rankings - but for how well they protect against deeper-penetrating ultraviolet-A rays that are linked to cancer and wrinkles.

The proposed rules are undergoing a final review and should be issued in weeks, FDA policy director Jeff Shuren said. Still, sunscreen bottles won't look different any time soon: The proposal will be followed by a public comment period before going into effect.

New research into how the sun and genetics interact points to a possibly more important step consumers can take now to shield their children, and themselves: Check the weather forecast for the day's "UV index" in your town, to learn when to stay indoors or in the shade.

Why? Where you live determines most of your UV exposure - that lunchtime stroll, children's school recess or ball practice. UV-A can even penetrate window glass. UV levels vary from state to state, even day to day, because of things like altitude, cloud cover and ozone.

"Sunscreen is imperfect, " said Dr. Nancy Thomas, a dermatologist at the University of North Carolina who led the research. "Schedule activities when UV irradiation is not quite so high."

Melanoma is the most lethal skin cancer. It will strike almost 60, 000 Americans this year, and kill some 8, 100. Cases have been rising for three decades, and while it usually strikes in the 40s or 50s, doctors see ever-younger cases, even in children.

Fast Facts:

Fighting UV-A

Until the FDA introduces a UV-A rating, dermatologists suggest:

- Use products with Helioplex - a more sun-stable mix - that seem to provide longer-lasting UV-A protection, although they can be more expensive.

- Limit sun exposure during peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more on how to use sunscreen correctly, see Pulse, 3E.

[Last modified June 12, 2007, 01:56:14]

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