Corralling my kids long enough to slather the recommended golf ball-sized amount of sunscreen all over their skin is no easy task. Their wriggling and writhing combined with the sunscreen’s greasiness make it messy and challenging.
But it’s worth the extra effort because just one blistering sunburn before the age of 18 more than doubles their chances of developing melanoma in adulthood.
I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many people I personally know that have had some form of skin cancer. In fact, it’s the most common type of cancer in the United States.
So what are the best ways to protect your family’s skin this summer? Nick DeBlasio, MD, in our Division of General and Community Pediatrics, shared 12 tips with me:
12 TIPS TO PROTECT YOUR FAMILY’S SKIN THIS SUMMER
1. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF (sun protection factor) 30 or greater. These filter out 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays.
2. Apply sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection 20 minutes before going outside. This allows the sunscreen to take effect before sun exposure.
3. Use water resistant sunscreen if your child will be swimming, sweating, or playing in the water.
4. Reapply (including water resistant sunscreens) every 2 hours at minimum or as directed on the product label, even on cloudy days. This is especially important when swimming or sweating.
5. Keep babies younger than 6 months out of the sun. It can irritate their skin, and their eyes are particularly sensitive.
6. Dress your child in sun-protective clothing that lists the garment’s SPF. Alternatively, children can wear lightweight, long-sleeved pants or shirts and a wide-brimmed hat for protection. Two companies that offer sun-protective clothing are sunprecautions.com and llbean.com.
7. Limit outdoor playtime in direct sunlight between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. This is when the sun’s rays are the strongest and most damaging to the skin.
8. Use umbrellas, trees, shadows and picnic shelters for sources of shade.
9. Have your child wear sunglasses while outside, playing sports, or at school. Look for store-bought sunglasses that are labeled as offering UV protection. A UV coating can be added to prescription glasses or contact lenses.
10. Some medications can make your child more susceptible to sunburns. This includes medicines such as antibiotics (like doxycycline) and Retin-A.
11. Talk with camp counselors, teachers, coaches, and designated caregivers. Have a discussion with them about following the guidelines above.
12. Avoid tanning beds and booths. They’re NOT safe. They deliver UVB light, which contributes to the development of skin cancer.
In addition to outdoor skin protection, Dr. DeBlasio says it’s also important to examine your kids’ skin every 2-3 months (or as recommended by your doctor). Most children will develop new moles over time, which is considered normal. You can reduce the development of new moles by following the sun protection guidelines above.
He also mentions to notify your child’s doctor if you observe changes in size, shape, color, or texture of any existing moles, as well as itching, pain, bleeding, irritation, or crusting. Moles should be evaluated if they grow faster than your child, develop areas of different color, or are asymmetric or have fuzzy borders.
Protecting young skin can be a challenging process, but since none of my kids have received a sunburn, I consider it time well spent. And because they still view sunscreen application as cold, slimy torture, I like to remind them that they’ll appreciate all of the extra prevention measures when they’re older. My 4-year-old usually responds with, “Like when I’m 8 years old?”
Yes, and then some.