Childhood sun exposure increase skin cancer risk

With the school year over and summer officially here, kids are spending more time outdoors. Exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays increases skin cancer risk, which can be dangerous and even deadly. Suffering one or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing potentially-deadly melanoma later in life.

Skin cancer is highly preventable, and adopting a complete sun protection regimen can drastically reduce skin cancer risk. There are many things parents and caregivers can do to keep children sun-safe, whether they are at camp, the beach or just in the backyard.

“Children are more sensitive to the sun, and the sun’s rays are strongest during the summer months, when children tend to spend ample time outdoors,” says Perry Robins, MD, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “Teaching children to adopt a sun-safe lifestyle when they’re young will prevent skin cancer and encourage them to begin lifelong healthy skin habits.”

Help children enjoy outdoor activities safely this summer with these tips from The Skin Cancer Foundation:

At Summer Camp

Remind kids to seek the shade: Tell kids to play in shaded areas in order to limit UV exposure. Check with counselors to see if there are adequate places for campers to seek shade during outdoor activities taking place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are most intense.

Dress kids in sun-protective clothing. For optimal protection from the sun, send kids to camp in tightly woven or knit, dark- or bright- colored fabrics. Don’t forget wide-brimmed hats (though a baseball cap is better than nothing) and wraparound, UV-blocking sunglasses.

Practice sunscreen application beforehand. Teach children to apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons, or about the size of a golf ball) of sunscreen to all exposed areas, 30 minutes before outdoor activities. Remind them to cover easily missed areas such as the back of ears and neck, and the tops of feet and hands. If camp rules allow, ask counselors to help children reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or excessive sweating. For extended outdoor activities, a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher is best.

At the Beach

Dress kids in sun-safe swimwear. Look for high-UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) swim shirts or rash guards, and choose bathing suits that cover more skin, like one-piece suits and long trunks.

Take extra precautions. Remember that water and sand reflect the sun’s rays. Help children reapply sunscreen frequently, cover them up with clothing, and bring a beach umbrella for kids to play under. The most effective beach umbrellas provide a minimum UPF of 30.

Talk to your teens about tanning. Teenagers may be tempted to “lay out” or visit tanning salons. But there is no such thing as a safe tan, because tanning itself is caused by DNA damage to the skin. Remind teens that tanning increases skin cancer risk, and leads to wrinkles, blemishes and age spots later in life.

Additional Skin Cancer Prevention Tips

Avoid sunburn. It may seem like a temporary irritation, but sunburns cause long-lasting damage to the skin.

Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreen should be used on babies over the age of six months.

Practice what you preach. Incorporate these tips into your own lifestyle. You’ll not only set a good example, but you’ll reduce your risk of skin cancer, sun damage and skin aging.

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