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Don’t Get Burned: What You Need to Know About Sunscreen and Skin Cancer

Dark tanned body in summer

Most children are lucky – they can’t imagine what it’s like to have a long-term health problem. That’s why it’s so important that parents put in the extra effort to teach children how to protect themselves from preventable health issues at a very early age. Skin issues in particular require a lifetime of good habits.

As a dermatologist, I’m always hearing about the “could have’s” and “should have’s”. Taking care of your skin is a lifelong to-do. Young children rely on you to teach them how to protect their skin, and that should start with protecting them against skin cancer.

The incidence of melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, is increasing, but treatment is curative if the melanoma is caught early. Melanoma is caused by sun exposure, and some families have an inherited risk. Two sunburns before the age of 18 doubles the risk for melanoma and three sunburns triples the risk. With the sun still in full force this August, it’s important to protect your child from the sun’s damaging rays now, and all year round.

Below are a few tips to help keep you and your child safe in the sun this month.

Seek shade when the sun’s rays are strongest: between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
If you are taking the kids to the beach, you won’t be in the shade the whole time, but bring a beach umbrella with you. When your children are in the sun continuously, apply sunscreen generously and often – every 60 minutes or so. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a shot glass worth of sunscreen to cover parts of the body that are typically unclothed, such as the hands, face, arms and ears.

Use extra caution near water, snow and sand.
A beach day can be very fun for the whole family, but you really do need to be extra careful to have sunscreen by your side. Water, snow and sand are all surfaces that reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.

Wear protective clothing like a long-sleeved shirt and pants, as well as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
When it’s possible to put a layer between the sun and your child’s sensitive skin, try to do so. There are many kinds of protective, water-proof gear that can still be comfortable on a hot day. Every child should wear a rash guard. Set an example for good sun habits and wear a rash guard yourself.

Get your Vitamin D from somewhere else.
Vitamin D helps your children build strong bones and healthy immune systems. Vitamin D is important for all of us, but getting it from the sun is only one of the ways to meet our bodies’ daily requirements. You can help your child get Vitamin D through the diet, by serving up fatty fish, fortified foods and egg yolks, or by purchasing the appropriate supplements.

Wear sunscreen throughout the year, and reapply often.
Sunscreen use is important all year round. Just as toothpaste prevents cavities when used daily, the use of sunscreen every day, rain or shine, will be the best protection against skin cancer and the aging effects of the sun. Even in the winter, I still encourage sunscreen use in California. If it’s a cloudy day, there is still a possibility of sunburn. If you’re going to have a day outdoors with your children, remember to plan ahead, apply sunscreen before leaving your home, and keep sun protection handy—in your car, bag, or child’s backpack. And don’t forget – have a great and safe summer.

Dr. Robert Rosenberg, MD is a board certified dermatologist with St. Jude Heritage Medical Group, an OCMA Physician of Excellence, and Past President of the American Society for Mohs Surgery.To learn more about you and your child’s health from St. Joseph Health wellness experts, doctors and dieticians, visit our blog, HealthCalling.

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