We may not think about it as much as we should, especially when our children are just hanging outside and playing, but sun exposure can have serious long-term consequences, leaving children at a much higher risk for skin cancer later in life. And, believe it or not, skin cancer accounts for up to 3% of pediatric cancers, and 6% of cancers in 15- to 19-year-olds.
“Overexposure to the sun and sunburns that happen during childhood are important and preventable risk factors for developing skin cancer as an adult,” Dawn Holman, a behavioral scientist in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Medical News Today. “This is why it’s so important for us all to use sun protection at every age.”
So this summer, while you’re out and about, having fun, on vacation, or just chilling in the back yard with your kids, keep them safe and protected now, and for the future, with these tips from the experts.
6 Months and Under:
Children at this age have low levels of melanin in their skin—the substance that gives pigmentation to hair, skin, and eyes. This makes UV radiation much more dangerous for them. Unfortunately, infants are also more susceptible to suffering a reaction from sunscreen. The best way to protect your baby from the sun is to keep them in the shade. If there isn’t shade, create some with an umbrella or canopy.
Other tips include:
- Dressing them in lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs
- Protecting their face, neck, and ears with a wide-brimmed hat or bonnet
- Using a stroller with a sun-protective cover
- Avoiding the outdoors (if possible) when UV radiation is highest (between 10am and 4pm).
- Using a mesh window shield or UV window film to reduce sun exposure while in vehicles
6 – 12 Months
Protective clothing and shade should still be utilized as UV protection at this age, but at six months, parents can start using sunscreen. A broad spectrum with a minimum SPF factor of 15 should be applied to any areas of exposed skin thirty minutes before exposure and reapplied every 2 hours after swimming or sweating. Children 6 months and up should also wear wraparound sunglasses that block 99 – 100% of UV radiation.
Toddlers are probably the most difficult to protect because they’re always on the go. They’re also more likely to defy the parent or remove protective gear when the parent isn’t directly present. Sunscreen should be used daily, and protective sunglasses, hat, and clothing should still be worn, however, to ensure proper protection. This applies, even when just going outside to play.
Older Children and Teens
Just like with toddlers and older infants, sunscreen should be worn daily, anytime the child will be outdoors. Protective clothing and gear should also be worn. The hope is that, if parents start to enforce sun protection (and the reasons behind it) at an early age, children will continue to follow the recommendations set before them.
But, of course, as children begin to creep into those teen years, they may be tempted to tan for vanity reasons. For this reason, it is important that parents talk to teens about the importance of avoiding all forms of tanning. This includes tanning beds, which emit UV rays around 10 to 15 times stronger than those given off by the midday sun.
A 29-year-old woman from Kentucky shared a photo of her wounds that had been caused by treatment for skin cancer. She had been diagnosed at 21—a diagnosis that she says came from excessive use of tanning beds. She encourages teens and young adults to stay away from all forms of tanning.
“If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun, here ya go! This is what skin cancer treatment can look like,” she wrote alongside a posted picture in headlines recently. “Wear sunscreen and get a spray tan. You only get one skin, and you should take care of it.”
It should be noted, however, that spray tans do not protect against UV rays. Sunscreen will still be needed when spending time outdoors.
The Biggest Motivator:
So what’s the biggest motivator for children of all ages? The best way to encourage your child to follow sun safety rules at all stages of their life?
“The most important thing to remember when thinking about sun protection is this: you are your children’s role model. Be sure to let them see you protecting yourself from the sun. If you have great skin, so will they,” the Skin Cancer Foundation says.