As a parent, protecting your child’s skin from the sun while they play outdoors may seem like a hassle. But our experts say it’s worth it.
A child’s delicate skin can easily burn. And that early damage can raise your child’s risk for skin cancer. The younger you are, the more problems that sun damage can cause, says Saira George, M.D., a dermatologist at MD Anderson.
Just one or two blistering sunburns double your child’s lifetime risk for melanoma. And melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Pale, freckled kids — though at increased risk — aren’t the only children in danger. “People of all races and skin types can and do get melanoma,” George says.
Ultraviolet light is a known carcinogen, just like tobacco. “You wouldn’t let your kids smoke,” she says. “And you shouldn’t let them expose their skin to UV light without protection.”
Apply sunscreen properly
While there are many ways to protect your child from UV rays, sunscreen is the simplest and safest method. Unfortunately, many people don’t apply it properly.
Use these tips to protect your child:
1. Choose sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Anything above that offers your child almost exactly the same level of protection. That’s because SPF protection doesn’t increase proportionately with the designated SPF number.
2. Spread sunscreen generously. If your child’s wearing a bathing suit, you need to use about one ounce or about the amount that would fit in a shot glass. Most people use far less. If a family of four is going to the beach for the day, they should use up a 16-ounce tube of sunscreen.
3. Apply sunscreen before your kids are in the sun. It takes about 30 minutes for sunscreen to really take effect.
4. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after your kids swim or sweat. And if you know they’ll be outside at school, put it on them before you drop them off for the day.
More steps to safeguard your child’s skin
Applying sunscreen isn’t the only way to protect your kids from skin cancer.
- Avoid tanning beds. Using tanning beds before age 18 increases a person’s risk of melanoma by 85%.
- Avoid midday sun exposure, when the sun’s UV rays are most powerful. Try to keep your kids out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Dress kids in protective clothing. Hats and shirts with built-in UV protection shield your child from the sun.
- Check for spots. The earlier you find a melanoma, the better. Check your kid’s skin using the ABCDEs of melanoma guide. You want to be on guard for things that may look like bug bites or warts.
- Be a role model. Your kids follow your lead. If you’re not taking steps to protect your skin from the sun, they won’t either. Apply sunscreen in front of them whenever possible, and always wear a hat outdoors in the sun.
Make sun protection fun
While applying sunscreen may seem like a chore to some kids, there are ways to make it fun. Try using sunscreen that comes in bright colors. Or tell your kids they can pick out whatever crazy hat they want from the store, under one condition: they have to wear it when they play outside. The best sun protection for your children is whichever one they’ll use, George says.
While some reports have suggested sunscreen sprays or ingredients may be risky, George says those scattered reports are far from conclusive.
“More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than any other form of cancer,” she says. “It’s not something parents should ignore.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 855-668-8897.