During a typical school day, it’s not unusual for children to receive a significant amount of sun exposure. That’s unfortunate, because sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases lifetime melanoma risk by 80 percent. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are also associated with 86 percent of melanomas and about 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers.
“The time to learn and start practicing sun protection is in youth, when safety behaviors can be established for a lifetime,” said Perry Robins, MD, President of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “Parents need to teach children about proper sun protection habits, the best method of skin cancer prevention.”
The Skin Cancer Foundation offers the following recommendations for keeping children sun-safe during the school year.
- UV rays are most intense from 10 AM to 4 PM, and this is when students are usually outside for recess, phys ed class and after-school programs. Check with the school to see if there are adequate places for students to seek shade during outdoor activities. Shade can be provided by gazebos and roof structures, awnings, shade sails, and natural shade, such as thickly leaved trees.
- Clothing is the single most effective form of sun protection for the body, so send kids to school in densely woven and bright- or dark-colored fabrics, which offer the best defense. The more skin you cover, the better, so choose long sleeves and long pants whenever possible.
- Send children to school with a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, to protect their face, neck and eyes. If they won’t wear a wide-brimmed hat, a baseball cap is better than nothing.
- Parents should apply a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher to their children’s skin every morning, at least 30 minutes before they go outside. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours outdoors and right after swimming or sweating heavily.
- Older children should learn to apply sunscreen themselves, and make it a routine habit. For extended time outdoors, a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher should be used instead.
- One ounce of sunscreen (about the size of a golf ball) should be applied to the entire body. Remind children to cover those easy to miss spots, such as the back of ears and neck, as well as the tops of the feet and hands.
Many schools don’t allow students to use sunscreen or wear a hat outdoors during the school day without written permission from a physician. The Skin Cancer Foundation has created a sun protection form that parents and doctors can sign, allowing students to bring these items to school, apply and use as needed. The form is available at www.skincancer.org/schoolnote.