It’s summer time, which means it’s time to protect our family from the scorching sun.
According to The American Academy of Dermatology, 80 percent of lifetime sun exposure occurs during childhood. It is our job as caregivers to teach our children about why repeated sun exposure and sunburns are harmful to our skin and what we should be doing for protection. Cumulative sun exposure over the years can causes basal cell carcinoma skin cancer. However, episodes of sunburns before the age of 18 are what place you at risk for melanoma later in life. Skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma and melanoma, is the most common type of cancer. New cases and deaths from melanoma, the deadliest form, have been increasing dramatically. All it takes is one or two severe burns to develop moles that increase a child’ s risk. Statistics show that approximately one-third of our youth are practicing effective sun protection. This is just not good enough.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is making an attempt to promote programs aimed at skin health and safety in schools. They have recommended that skin health be included in comprehensive health education classes. West Virginia has also recently passed laws prohibiting anyone under the age of 18 to participate in indoor UV tanning. Salons could be fined if they allow minors even with adult permission to use tanning beds.
Patients should be getting annual exams to check moles especially those with a family history of melanoma or those with many moles. There is strong evidence that the risk of melanoma increases for individuals who have atypical moles with irregular borders, vary in color, or are asymmetrical, meaning if you cut the mole in half, the two halves would not look the same. Other melanoma risk factors include previous melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancers, skin that burns readily and fails to tan, freckling, blue eyes, red hair, and once again a history of blistering sunburns.
Some simple ways to protect you and your children this summer include:
- Limiting outdoor play when the rays are at their strongest from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPF, preferably 50 SPF, 30 minutes before you or your child go out in the sun. Reapply sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours. If you’re swimming or sweating, cut that reapply time in half.
- Wearing protective clothing such as hats and using a dark-colored umbrella adds extra protection.
A question I receive often is,“How can I protect my baby younger than 6 months? Is sunscreen safe for him?” Here’s the answer. If using sunscreen on a baby newborn to 6 months of age, look for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These products stay on the surface of the skin and there is less absorption. The best way to protect your baby, though, is with protective clothing.
We do all kinds of safety prevention on a daily basis to protect our families. However, skin cancer prevention often gets pushed aside. I consistently hear parents say, “My child and I do not burn,” Please know, however, that all skin gets damaged by the sun and should be protected.
The bottom line is this. Education is always key. Teach your children why it is important to protect their skin. Set a good example and protect yourself because kids tend to follow the lead from their parents. If you notice any suspicious spots on your skin or a family member’s skin, or notice anything changing, itching or bleeding, see your primary care provider or a board-certified dermatologist.
Have fun and stay safe this summer! If you have any questions that you’d like to ask me on this or other pediatric-related topics, please call 304-366-0700.
Candis Toothman, FNP-C
Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner
MVA Health Center – Pediatrics