ASK THE EXPERT: If a baby was severely sunburned twice, is she at an increased risk for skin cancer?

By David Bank, MD

Dr. Bank is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Medical Association, American Society of Liposuction Surgery and American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, and is on the Board of Directors of the New York State Dermatology Society. He is the author of Beautiful Skin:  Every Woman's Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age.

Q: If a baby was severely sunburned twice, is she at an increased risk for skin cancer? Can any measures be taken to reduce potential risks?

A: Sadly yes, if a child is severely burned twice as a baby he or she is at increased risk for skin cancer. Even one bad sunburn as a baby, child or even young adult, can increase risk over time. The best measure to take is prevention; try to avoid getting the burn in the first place. Children younger than 6 months should not use any sunscreen as the chemicals may be too harsh and irritating to their sensitive skin. Since infants under 6 months are fairly immobile, it is easy to keep them out of the sun. Also,make sure they are wearing sun-protective clothing and are kept in the shade when outside. For children older than 6 months it is safe to use pediatric and baby sunscreen, but there is nothing inherently magical about these, so normal adult sunscreens are fine to use as well.

As children age, you can teach them the habit of wearing an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen on all exposed skin year round, with especially high SPF in the summer. They should also get in the habit of doing a monthly skin self-exam in front of a well-lit, full-length mirror to check for spots that are new, growing, and/or changing. Also, they should have an annual skin cancer exam given by a dermatologist who can also watch for changes with an expert’s trained eye. It is never too young to get your skin checked. It is non-invasive and can be life-saving.

Published in the Winter 2007 Edition of Sun & Skin News