Just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life. According to one US study, 54 percent of children become sunburned or tanned in their second summer, versus 22 percent in their first.
"Children should not be getting sunburned at any age, especially since there are a range of very effective sun protection methods that can used," said Perry Robins, MD, President, The Skin Cancer Foundation. "Parents need to be extra vigilant about sun protection all the time."
Many parents don't know the best ways to protect their young children. Below are The Skin Cancer Foundation's recommendations.
- 0-6 months: Infants under 6 months of age should be kept out of the sun. Their skin is too sensitive for sunscreen. An infant's skin possesses little melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin, hair and eyes and provides some sun protection. Therefore, babies are especially susceptible to the sun's damaging effects.
- Use removable mesh window shields to keep direct sunlight from coming in through the windows of your car or invest in UV window film, which can screen almost 100 percent of ultraviolet radiation without reducing visibility.
- Take walks early in the morning before 10 AM or after 4 PM and use a stroller with a sun-protective cover.
- Dress baby in lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs.
- Choose a wide-brimmed hat or bonnet that protects the baby's face, neck, and ears. A baby who wears a hat during the first few months will get used to having it on.
- 6-12 months: It's now safe to use sunscreen on babies.
- Apply broad-spectrum, SPF 15+ sunscreen to areas left uncovered such as baby's hands. Many companies have tear-free formulas that won't sting baby's eyes.
- If you are using a spray sunscreen, it should not be applied directly to the face; sprays should be misted into the hands, and then spread on the face.
- Most importantly, sunscreen must be applied 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Protecting toddlers from the sun requires a little more thought and effort. It is important to educate your child and caregivers.
- Look for broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF 15 or higher. Water-resistant, spray-on sunscreens are a good choice for toddlers who won't sit still. Spray sunscreens should not be applied directly to the face; sprays should be misted into the hands, then spread on the face.
- Make sure your child seeks the shade between 10 AM and 4 PM. Check the outdoor area where your child plays to make sure there is adequate shade.
- Make sure toddlers are covered. Long-sleeved, unbleached cotton clothing is cool and comfortable, while also highly protective. Clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) listing on the label offers extra security. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends clothing with a UPF of 30 or higher.
- Don't forget hats and sunglasses. Choose a wide-brimmed hat that protects face, neck, and ears.
"With a little effort and planning, it's easy for young children to enjoy the outdoors safely," said Dr. Robins. "Parents need to make it a priority and to also lead by example."