When it comes to exposure to the sun’s UVA and UVB ultraviolet waves, the head of the Mexican Society of Cosmetic and Laser Dermatology (SMDCL) doesn’t believe in taking chances.
“There is still a lot of debate as to at what age an infant can be exposed to the sun,” the SMDCL president Francisco Pérez Atamoros told The News during the 62nd Annual Therapeutic Dermatology Congress at the World Trade Center last week, where he was representing the Johnson & Johnson’s California-based skincare line Neutrogena.
“Everyone agrees that no child should be exposed to the sun before they are at least six months old, but I prefer to error on the side of caution and tell parents not to expose their infants to the sun during their entire first year of life.”
Pérez Atamoros went on to explain that since a baby’s skin is not fully developed, it does not have the natural melatonin defense against ultraviolet rays.
“Every baby develops on its own schedule, so not all babies have skin mature enough for sun exposure at age six months,” he said.
“There just isn’t any point in risking your infant’s skin health by exposing them to the sun before age one.”
Pérez Atamoros is equally conservative when it comes to protecting adult skin from UV rays.
“I recommend that everyone use a sunscreen with at least a 50-plus factor, and if you have very light or sensitive skin, you can use an even stronger product,” he said.
Pérez Atamoros pointed out that, in Mexico, most sunscreen and sunblock products are not allowed to advertise a factor of above 50-plus because the references are confusing for consumers.
Nonetheless, he said, some products, including Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Broad Spectrum SPF 70, have presented extensive evidence to the Health Secretariat’s Federal Commission for the Protection Against Sanitary Risks (Cofepris), providing their additional protective benefits and can therefore carry a higher SPF rating on the label.
“Higher SPFs are obviously better because they protect against more rays for a longer period of time,” Pérez Atamoros said, “but they are usually more expensive, so consumers have to factor in the cost-versus-benefit of a higher SPF product.”
The important point, Pérez Atamoros said, is that everyone – men, women and children – should be wearing a sunscreen daily and reapplying it several times throughout the day.
“There are still too many Mexicans who think that sunscreen is something to use at the beach but that do not bother to apply it in the city,” he said.
“That is a big mistake because Mexico City is more dangerous than the beach because of its altitude. The higher the altitude, the more the exposure.”
Pérez Atamoros pointed out that residents of Cuzco, Peru, with an elevation of about 3,400 meters, are exposed to 60 percent more UV rays than Peruvians living at sea level.
Mexico City has an altitude of 2,240 meters above sea level.
Pérez Atamoros said that it is crucial to get the message out to Mexicans to use sunscreen because skin cancer is on the rise in this country.
In fact, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide, and, according to statistics from the National Social Security Institute (IMSS), the incidence of the disease in Mexico has increased from just 2 percent to a whopping 13 percent in just the last decade.
“People still don’t take sun exposure seriously in Mexico, and they are ending up paying a very heavy price for that mistake later in life,” Pérez Atamoros said.
He said that only about 32 percent of Mexican women and less than 18 percent of Mexican men apply sunscreen daily, and barely half of each of those groups apply the product correctly or often enough.
“It doesn’t really matter if you prefer a chemical or physical sunscreen, just so long as you use it daily and reapply often,” he said.
“UV rays age the skin and, more importantly, can lead to skin cancer. And skin cancer is one of the few types of cancer that is preventable. So use your sunscreen.”