Updated: May 11, 2021
Posted by Hilary Light-Deutsch, MD
Now that the weather is warmer, it's a good time to review sun protection:
The sun sustains life and feels good, but it can be your skin’s worst enemy. While every sunburn can increase your child's risk of skin cancer, it’s not just those big days at the beach or ballgame that cause trouble. Each time your child goes out to play or walk to school without sun protection also adds to the damage that can lead to skin cancer (as well as leathery skin, dark spots and wrinkles). No single method of sun defense can protect your child perfectly, though. The best path to beautiful, healthy skin is to adopt as many of these steps as possible into your lifestyle, and make them daily habits everywhere you go, all year long.
Play in the Shade When you are outside, think of shade as your refuge, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM, the peak hours of sun intensity. Walk on the shady side of the street, sit under an awning or sun-protective umbrella, duck onto the covered porch at a pool party or even under a tree. The pitfall: Shade isn’t a perfect shield. Some UV rays can still reach your child's skin. They can pass through leaves and branches, hit skin from the side and reflect off water, sand, glass and concrete.
Know Your Sunscreen Sunscreens come in many formulations and delivery methods, and it can take trial and error to find the one you like best. Whether it’s a sport spray, an easy-to-use stick or a rich cream, the best sunscreen is the one you will use every day. SPF stands for sun protection factor. The number tells you how long the sun’s UVB rays would take to redden your skin when using a particular sunscreen compared with the amount of time without sunscreen. So if you use an SPF 15 product exactly as directed (applied generously and evenly, and reapplied after two hours or after sweating or swimming), it would take you 15 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen. Look for products with SPF of 30 or higher. Broad spectrum. The words “broad spectrum” on a label indicate that the sunscreen contains ingredients that effectively protect against UVA rays as well as UVB. Water resistance. While sunscreens can’t claim to be waterproof, they can be labeled water resistant for either 40 or 80 minutes. Yes, you can burn even when you’re in the water, so reapplying is key! Sensitive skin. Products containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, sometimes referred to as mineral or physical formulas, may be less likely to cause skin irritation in people who have sensitive skin such as babies. In general they are felt to be safer ingredients. Oxybenzone is considered the most worrisome component of chemical sunscreens, so try to avoid it. The pitfall: Most people don’t apply sunscreen exactly as directed. They may not apply it liberally enough, might miss spots and may forget to reapply regularly. Slather it on!
Cover It Up Clothing can provide a great barrier against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Many new fabrics offer high-tech protection and breathability, too. The more skin you cover (high neck, long sleeves, pants), the better, and a hat with a wide brim is best because it helps shade eyes, ears, face and neck. Also use UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your child's eyes and the skin around them. What does UPF mean? Look for UPF, which stands for ultraviolet protection factor, on labels for clothing, hats and fabrics. The number indicates what fraction of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate the fabric. A shirt labeled UPF 50, for example, allows just 1/50th of the UV radiation to reach your skin. The pitfall: Any clothing leaves some skin exposed, so you need sunscreen, too.
Shield the Wee Ones Infants: It’s best in the first six months to keep infants out of the sun rather than use sunscreen on their sensitive skin. Clothing should cover baby’s vulnerable arms and legs, and don’t forget to use hats, sunglasses and stroller sun shades. Toddlers: In addition to providing a protective hat and clothing, you can apply sunscreen to children starting at six months. The pitfall: Unexpected exposure can happen, for example, with a babysitter. Be prepared; talk to caregivers in advance about sun protection.
Look Out for Windows While glass blocks UVB rays pretty well, it allows UVA rays to pass through. This is true of your windows at home as well as on the road. Car windshields are treated to shield drivers from most UVA rays, but side, back and sunroof windows usually aren’t. When you’re in your car, protect yourself and your family with hats, clothing, sunglasses, sunscreen, whatever it takes. Another option is to have UV-protective window film applied to windows, in your car or at home. The windows on airplanes, trains and buses also allow UVA rays to pass through. That’s why airline pilots, crew members and even frequent travelers may get more skin cancers than other people.
Say No to Tanning Beds It’s simple: Don’t let your teen use a tanning bed — ever. Indoor tanning (even one time) raises the risk of all kinds of skin cancer, including melanoma. In fact, using a tanning bed before age 35 increases your risk of melanoma by 75 percent.
Early Detection Starts with You Using sun protection consistently from an early age is the strongest defense against developing skin cancer. Speak with your doctor or see a dermatologist if you see something suspicious or have a risk factor such as family history of skin