People Watching at the Beach
"Mommy, Mommy, look at the naked man!" Lucas shouts. For a second, I'm thinking someone is in the buff. But thankfully it's a false alarm; Lucas is pointing at a dad in the water who just removed his drenched shirt. "Lucas is so accustomed to my rules of 'no shirt, no hat, no play' that when he sees a guy without a shirt, he thinks he's naked," explains Dr. Alvarez Connelly. "Actually, I'm surprised he hasn't said it sooner, because a lot of guys around here aren't wearing a shirt." She tells me that a regular shirt is usually the equivalent of SPF 5 or 10.
Moms aren't setting a better example, she says pointing to a bikini-clad woman in the water. "Her kids are in rash guards, so clearly she knows about sun protection, but she looks like she's out for a tan herself. Geez, I wish she'd put on a cover-up, if for no other reason than to send the right message to her children." A lot of women, Dr. Alvarez Connelly explains, have heard that two blistering sunburns in childhood can raise the chance of melanoma (the most serious skin cancer) later in life. But they think they can't do any more damage to their skin in adulthood so they don't bother. "That's completely off the mark because the two other kinds of skin cancer, basal and squamous cell carcinomas, are linked to how much sun you get over a lifetime, not just during childhood," she explains. Then, there's the matter of wrinkles, of course."
"But what if that mom has on SPF 70?" I say, playing devil's advocate. Her response took me off guard: "If you relied only on sunscreen, there's still a good chance you could get a burn." Even though higher SPFs give you added protection, most people, she explains, under-apply sunscreen. Women typically need an ounce to cover their whole body -- about as much as you'd get in a little cup of salad dressing when you order it on the side. "Since this woman is tall and in a bikini, she probably needs more than that," she says. "And she's at the beach only with her young kids, so who will put it on her back for her?"