Stopping Sunburns: Protect Kids from Harmful Rays Now to Save Lives Later
Denise Metry, M.D.

Did you know just two severe sunburns before the age of 18 can increase a child’s risk of developing skin cancer later in life?

A child’s immune system and cell repair mechanisms eventually will be compromised after repeated sunburns and tans, just like in adults.  Their bodies are unable to catch and destroy damaged cells, which can later grow exponentially and turn into skin cancer.

There are three types of skin cancer – squamous-cell and basal cell carcinomas – cancers that often occur on areas of the skin that are regularly exposed to the sun, including the face, the back of the hands and the ears. The third and most dangerous type is melanoma – a cancer that begins in the skin and can spread to other parts of the body.

Melanoma is one of the fastest growing types of cancer in the U.S., with the number of cases doubling in the last 20 years. Several thousand people die each year from the disease.

On average, children and adolescents get three times as much sun radiation as adults and need special protection.  While children need not be kept inside all day to avoid ultra-violet rays, they do need to be smart about the sun and practice healthy habits

During the summer months, parents need to be mindful about the harmful effects of the sun’s rays and follow these guidelines:

Be a good role model: Practice smart sun safety yourself so your child has a model for his/her behavior.

Start early in a child’s life: Start teaching children about sun safety early in life so it becomes a habit.

Keep sunscreen handy. Pack a bottle of sunscreen in your child’s backpack and carry some in your purse or in your pocket, and keep a bottle in the car.

Remember that you shouldn’t totally rely on sunscreen for your child’s skin protection. It should be one part of his or her sun-protection program, along with wearing protective clothing, avoiding the midday sun (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) and checking the UV index.

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