Saving Face

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Dermatologists Offer Tips on How to Protect Your Child's Skin From the Sun

Jun 1, 2007


It's never too late to take precautions against skin cancer. The incidence of melanoma, a potentially fatal skin cancer, is increasing dramatically. It is currently the most common type of cancer in young women between the ages of 25 and 29.

"Sun exposure plays a significant role in the development of melanoma. Although more and more adults are following their doctor's advice and using sunscreens during outdoor activities, many of us are unaware of how important it is to make sure that our children, especially infants, are getting the necessary skin protection," says Dr. Desiree Ratner, director of dermatologic surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

According to Dr. Lauren Sternberg, a dermatologist at the Iris Cantor Women's Health Center of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, "Intense sun exposure prior to age 20 may be more of a significant risk factor for skin cancer than sun exposure past the age of 20. Three or more blistering sunburns early in life, or three or more years of working outdoors, (e.g., camp counselors or lifeguards) without protection, can increase the risk of skin cancer by more than three times."

Dr. Ratner and Dr. Sternberg recommend the following guidelines to help protect your children from the harmful effects of the sun:

  • Babies up to 6 months should be kept out of the sun completely.
  • All children need regular daily applications of sunscreens that are water-proof and sweat-proof. Some of these sunscreens are available in spray form, which is often more convenient for children.
  • Depending on the size of the child, approximately one ounce of sunscreen should be applied to the entire body surface one half-hour before going outside and should be reapplied after swimming.
  • Parents should also note that if their child has freckles, this is a sign that their skin has sustained some sun damage.
  • Moles present at birth need to be evaluated by a dermatologist. In some cases, they may need to be removed because of a possible risk that they may develop into a melanoma later in life.
  • Teenagers, who are often very concerned about having a tan, should be reminded that tanning creams are safe and will give them the same look without the harmful rays of the sun.
  • Tanning beds are not good for anyone!
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