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Skin Cancer and Children

With increased education about sun exposure, outdoor lovers and children can reduce their chance of skin cancer. Summer is drawing near, and adults and children alike are spending more and more time outdoors. However, the sun's ultraviolet rays can put a damper on the outdoor fun. Increased sun exposure now can mean an increased risk of skin cancer later in life, health officials warn.

Children especially are at risk. Most children rack up 50 to 80 percent of their lifetime sun exposure before age 18. One bad sunburn can double a child's risk of later developing skin cancer. The good news is that skin cancers can be prevented. Seventy percent of sun damage is from casual sun exposure that happens when kids are riding their bikes or playing in the school yard. It's important for parents to make sunscreen a habit, just like washing hands and wearing a seatbelt. By using sunscreen daily and taking other easy precautions, parent can reduce their child's risk of developing skin cancer by up to 80 percent.

Even one or two blistering sunburns can significantly increase a child's risk for developing melanoma/skin cancer later in life. Don't think your child can't get burned. Even dark-skinned children can get a sunburn. Any child not practicing the following sun-safety measures increases his or her risk of skin cancer and premature aging, according to Rex Amonette, M.D., immediate-past AAD president, of Memphis, Tenn.

1. Limit outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are strongest. Don't forget there is reflective light even in the shade.

2. Babies under 6 months old should spend very little time in the sun. If they are out in the sun, they should wear protective clothing, including a hat with a brim that shades their face and sunglasses that filter harmful UV rays.

3. Babies and children over 6 months should always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before children go outside and reapplied every two to three hours when they are in the sun or water, even if the label says the product is waterproof. Don't forget the nose, lips, ears and backs of hands and feet! Stick sunscreen products with paraffin are good for those areas, since they don't drip and sting young eyes.

4. Kids should wear photoprotective clothing and hats. Just wearing a white T-shirt isn't good enough. A wet, light-colored shirt transmits almost as much light to a child as his or her bare skin! So wear dark colors with long sleeves and pants whenever possible. Some companies specialize in designing photoprotective clothing. Your dermatologist can recommend an appropriate brand.

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Date of Last Update: 07/27/12