Skin Cancer Prevention Starts at Birth
When it comes to protecting your children’s skin and health, simple choices and everyday habits could keep them from developing the deadliest form of skin cancer later in life. The decisions to cover up, sit in the shade, and reapply sunscreen all make a difference in whether a child gets too much sun. Just one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence can nearly double a person’s chance of developing melanoma later in life, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Five or more blistering burns between the ages of 15 and 20 increases the risk of melanoma by 80 percent.
“It’s so important for parents to be vigilant about sun protection,” said Tim Hatt, a board-certified physician assistant specializing in family and acute care medicine at Monarch Medical Associates. “Infants are especially vulnerable. The first six months are when the skin is most sensitive and likely to burn. It can have lifelong ramifications.”
It’s not easy to avoid the sun, especially living in Hampton Roads. Waterways and the ocean invite us to cool off during hot summer days. However, they also reflect and intensify the damaging rays of the sun, and it doesn’t take a sunny day to get a sunburn. Up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can still reach your skin.
Although using a sunscreen daily can cut the incidence of melanoma by half, consider your child’s age before you reach for the SPF 30. Parents should not apply sunscreen to infants under 6 months. Instead, infants that age should be kept out of the sun as much as possible. Seeking shade is the easiest way to do that. Parents should also make sure that their baby wears a long-sleeved shirt and pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
Sun protection should happen every day, not just at the beach or by the pool. “Be careful if you take your baby on a long road trip,” Hatt said. “Use a sunshade to block the UV rays that may penetrate the side windows of your vehicle.”
Once a child is at least 6 months, a broad-spectrum sunscreen can be applied to exposed skin. The sunscreen should have an SPF of at least 30. Sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are most appropriate for infants and toddlers who have sensitive skin, according to the AAD. Even with sunscreen, children should stay in the shade and wear sun-protective clothing.
Sun protection tips for parents:
- Always seek the shade. Avoid the sun’s rays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Dress your children in long-sleeved shirts and pants. Have them wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Do the same for yourself; it helps to model healthy behaviors.
- Make sure children 6 months and older wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPF to exposed skin areas.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours after swimming or sweating.
- Make sure to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas including: ears, neck, top of the head, and feet.
Despite a parent’s best efforts, children can get sunburned, overheated and dehydrated from too much sun. Head indoors if your child becomes fussy, won’t stop crying, or has redness on any exposed skin. Offer plenty of fluids. Check the color of their urine, which should be light yellow, Hatt said.
If your child does get sunburned, make sure they drink extra water and stay out of the sun. Cool compresses or ibuprofen can help with any redness and discomfort. “Aloe vera is also gentle on the skin,” Hatt said.
Blisters, a sign of second-degree sunburn, should not be touched. Be sure to contact your health provider if blisters cover a large area of the body or if your child has chills, a headache, or fever.
“It’s also a good idea to have an annual skin exam,” Hatt said. “If you notice a mole changing or something suspicious, see a doctor. You want to catch skin cancer early.”
For additional information about your own personal risks for skin cancer and when you should be screened, consult your primary care provider or dermatologist. Call 804-359-WELL or visit http://goodhelpdocs.com/ if you need help finding a healthcare provider.