When we talk about skin cancer risk, we often focus on adults, but kids are even more vulnerable to the sun’s UV radiation. Their young and delicate skin is more susceptible to burning and damage, and, as the CDC reminds us, just a few serious sunburns can greatly increase the risk of skin cancer later in life. That’s why it’s important to start kids on proper skin care practices early. Below we go over some some basic tips for keeping kids safe from skin cancer.
Keep children 0 to 6 months out of the sun
Infants’ skin is not yet fully developed and has little melanin, making it too sensitive for sunscreen. This means they should be kept out of the sun as much as possible in order to prevent any skin damage. For car rides, it’s recommended to use removable mesh window shields or UV window film to filter out any harmful rays. The Skin Cancer Foundation also recommends taking walks early in the day, before 10 am or after 4 pm, when the sun is at its lowest, and to use a covered stroller if possible. It’s also important to dress babies in lightweight protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat that protects their face, neck and ears whenever they are outside.
Apply sunscreen, properly
After 6 months, it is considered safe to use sunscreen on babies. Make sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 (anything higher than that will provide about the same amount of protection) on any exposed areas of skin. Many companies make formulas especially for children so as not to irritate their skin or cause tearing should it get in their eyes. Be sure to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply often — at least every 2 hours — and any time after swimming or sweating. Don’t be shy about slathering it on either. “Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen,” Susan Y. Chon, M.D., assistant professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Dermatology, said. “For sunscreen to do its job effectively, you should apply 1 ounce of sunscreen — the size of a golf ball — to every part of your body exposed to the sun.”
The sun is generally strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. During these hours, it’s important to seek shade whenever possible. While some activities may require kids to be exposed during peak hours of the day, whenever it’s an option, find a shady area or use an umbrella or other protective coverings to minimize UV exposure. And if shade is not an option at all, be extra vigilant with the sunscreen.
Check the UV Index
While it may seem like over-kill, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of checking the UV Index before getting the kids ready in the morning as well. The UV Index is a standardized international measurement that indicates the daily strength of UV rays. Essentially, it’s a spectrum that allows people to gauge their degree of risk — knowing when protection means wearing a hat and applying sunscreen or when it’s better to avoid being outside altogether.
The index is on a scale from 0 to 11, with 0 being the lowest risk level and 11 being the highest.
Here’s a quick guide to the UV Index:
0-2.9: Low risk level
Low danger for the average person. Wear sunglasses if the sun reflects off the snow and a low SPF for all year-round protection, especially if you have fair skin.
3-5.9: Moderate risk level
Moderate risk for sun exposure. You may want to seek shade during the midday hours and wear clothing that covers your body.
6-7.9: High risk level
This index indicates that the sun rays are dangerous and protective clothes as well as SPF 30+ cream is needed. Protect your eyes with sunglasses and seek shade.
8-10.9: Very high risk level
This level usually occurs on hot summer days. It is recommended to apply sunscreen as well as stay indoors during midday hours and get plenty of hydration.
11+: Extreme risk level
All precautions are needed as this level of radiation indicates health dangers beyond sun burn. Hats, protective clothes and SPF should be used at all times. Be extra sure you re-apply sunscreen every two hours as well.
Dress them in protective clothing
Protective clothing is another important way to keep kids safe in the sun. When possible, dress children in long-sleeved bottoms and tops, sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays and wide-brimmed hats that shield their necks, faces and heads. Darker colors and tightly woven fabric provide better protection, and keep in mind that wet clothing is less effective at blocking UV rays than dry clothing. For even better protection, seek out UV protective clothing which is specifically designed to better block UV radiation and comes with a UPF rating (which functions like SPF).
While the older children get, the harder they can be to control, it’s important to try and protect their skin whenever possible. Remember: skin damage builds up over time. They will thank you later in life when their skin is wrinkle and malignancy free.