Melissa Arca: Protect kids' skin when they're out in the sun

04/25/2013 12:00 AM

04/25/2013 7:13 AM

Melanoma in kids is on the rise. While still relatively rare, this deadly skin cancer has been increasing each year according to a long-term study released in the Journal of Pediatrics. Among childhood cases, 75 percent of them occur in adolescents ages 15 to 19.

Increased and unprotected exposure to UV rays from the sun and indoor tanning booths increase the risk of melanoma along with other untoward effects of chronic sun exposure such as premature skin aging and sunburns. In fact, just one blistering sunburn during childhood can more than double your child's risk of developing melanoma later in life.

Sun damage is additive, so with up to 80 percent of a person's lifetime sun exposure occurring during childhood, protecting our children from damaging UV rays is essential. So brush up on these do's and don'ts of sun protection for your children.

Do educate your kids and caregivers on the importance of sun protection.

Don't allow your child to use tanning booths. Indoor tanning carries the same UV risks as being exposed to outdoor UV rays from the sun. There is no safe way to tan.

Do avoid being in the sun during peak UV hours, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Don't assume that your child is protected on cloudy days. Clouds do not protect against damaging UV rays.

Do use a sunscreen when outdoors that has both UVA and UVB protection. Look for "broad spectrum" and an SPF of at least 15 (I recommend SPF of at least 30 for days spent in the sun.) While 95 percent of UV rays reaching the earth are UVA, the other 5 percent from UVB rays are responsible for the development of most skin cancers. You and your children need protection from both.

Do reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, no matter what. Higher SPF does not mean you can stay out in the sun longer without reapplying. SPF refers to the ability to protect against UVB rays. Sunscreens with SPF of 50 or greater have a negligible increase in UVB protection.

Do use sun protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses on children in addition to sunscreens. Think of the whole sun protection package.

Do use sunscreens on infants less than 6 months old if they are out in the sun. Limit exposure by applying only to exposed areas such as the face, hands, and neck. Keep them shaded as much as possible and make use of sun protective clothing and hats.

Do be sure to keep water on hand to prevent dehydration.

Now that the weather is heating up, we're spending more time outdoors.

Which is definitely a good thing. Get your kids out to play and just remember that the sun is fun but your kids do need daily sun protection to prevent its potentially damaging effects.

Dr. Melissa Arca is a mother of two. Her blog,, is featured on The Bee's blog and community news network,


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