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Return to Fun in the Summer Sun: Protect Your Child's Skin Overview

More on Fun in the Summer Sun: Protect Your Child's Skin

Fun in the Summer Sun: Protect Your Child's Skin

Breaking News - June 2005 - Week 2

(Jun 8, 2005)

Healthcare in  the News

-- As the summer season kicks off, children across the US are preparing for months of outdoor fun, from planning a tree fort to shopping for swimsuits.

Picture of two toddlers with a beach ball on the beach

However, health experts warn that fun could have long-term consequences if children and teens do not properly protect themselves from the sun's rays.

Experts Warn Against Sunburn

Children who suffer just one severe, blistering sunburn have doubled their chances of getting skin cancer, according to medical experts.

What is more, a survey sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that about 43 percent of white children under age 12 had at least one sunburn in the past year.

"You can recover from a sunburn, but there's still damage that has occurred," says Dr. Deborah S. Sarnoff, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York University, a clinical consultant in the dermatology branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and an educational spokeswoman for the Skin Cancer Foundation.

"Even though our skin cells turn over constantly, there's cumulative damage," Dr. Sarnoff says.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute. More than a million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, and current estimates say 40 percent to 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once.

More than 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure - specifically, exposure to the sun's ultraviolet radiation.

The sun is so directly linked to skin cancer that cases vary depending on the weather and sunlight of different regions, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). For example, skin cancer is more common in Texas than in Minnesota, and the world's highest rates are found in South Africa and Australia.

Anyone can get skin cancer, but the risk is greatest for people who have fair skin that freckles easily. Persons with red or blond hair and blue or light-colored eyes should be particularly wary.

The two most common kinds of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, with basal cell carcinoma accounting for more than 90 percent of all skin cancers in the US. These cancers affect the two types of cells that make up the outer layers of the skin's surface; they are slow-growing and rarely spread to other parts of the body.

Less common but much more deadly is melanoma, a cancer that affects melanocytes, cells deep inside the epidermis that produce the coloring agent melanin.

Melanoma is much more likely to become malignant and spread to other parts of the body. Nearly 10,000 people died from skin cancer in 2004, and most of those died from melanoma, according to the CDC.

Most skin cancers appear after age 50, but the sun's damaging effects begin at an early age, according to the ACS. Protection should start in childhood to prevent skin cancer later in life.

It is a tough job, Dr. Sarnoff says. "Children's skin is thinner, more sensitive, and delicate. It's much easier to get a sunburn as a kid than as an adult."

Protect Yourself and Family

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to stay indoors when the sun's rays are at their strongest. Whenever possible, people should avoid exposure to the midday sun, roughly from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. standard time or 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daylight saving time.

If you must go out, you should shield as much of your body as possible from ultraviolet radiation, says Dr. Martin Weinstock, chairman of the ACS skin cancer advisory group, a professor of dermatology at Brown University, and chief of dermatology at the VA Medical Center in Providence.

"We have a slogan - Slip, Slop, Slap," Dr. Weinstock says. "Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat."

True coverage involves wearing as many clothes as possible, Dr. Sarnoff notes. Sunblock is important, but it does not protect nearly well as clothing.

If your children are using sunblock, remember to reapply it every two hours if they are playing a sport or participating in some other activity that causes them to sweat, she says. And if they swim, they should reapply sunblock as soon as they come out of the water.

"We think teaching your kids proper sunblock use is as important as teaching them to brush their teeth or comb their hair," Dr. Sarnoff explains. "It's basic grooming."

Parents also should remember that the sun is a risk even on cool spring or autumn days, Dr. Weinstock says.

"It's not the heat, it's the UV rays," he says. "Spring is a particularly important time to be careful. It may be cool out, and you may still need protection."

Always consult your physician for more information.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.


American Cancer Society Guide to Sun Protection

It is important to shield your children’s skin from the damaging effects of the sun, states the American Cancer Society (ACS). No matter what they are doing, or what time of year it is, if they are outside, they need to be protected.

Build safe sun habits into your family’s daily routine. Lead by example - children will respond better when they see you protecting your skin. Begin by teaching them the ACS easy and fun "safe sun habits": Slip! Slop! Slap!®

Slip! Slop! Slap!®
With just a few basics, you can teach healthy habits to keep your children safe in the sun. Whenever they are outdoors, remind them to:

Slip! on a shirt. Wear protective clothing when out in the sun.
Slop! on sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
Slap! on a hat that shades the face, neck, and ears.

Helpful hints:

  • Wear wrap-around sunglasses for total protection
  • Plan outdoor activities to avoid the midday sun
  • Keep an extra bottle of sunscreen in the car
  • Pack sunscreen in your child’s knapsack or gym bag

Sun Facts
Research shows a link between sunburns in children and an increased risk of melanoma and skin cancer later in life.

Protecting skin from the sun during childhood and adolescence is important in reducing cancer risk later in life.

Ultraviolet (UV) rays reflect off water, sand, and snow. UV rays also reach below water’s surface.

Play in the Shade
The sun’s rays are generally strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If your children are outdoors, be sure their skin is protected.

Teach your children the shadow rule. When outside, if your shadow is shorter than you are, then the sun is high in the sky, and the UV rays are intense.

Encourage your kids to avoid the sun during these times and play in the shade.

Cover Up with Hats and Shirts
Choose hats that shade your child’s face, neck, and ears. Choose shirts and slacks made of tightly woven fabrics that you cannot see through when held up to light.

Use Sunscreen Every Day
Apply sunscreen every day on skin that is not protected by clothing or a hat. Choose a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. And remember to reapply after swimming, sweating, or toweling dry.

Do not use sunscreens on babies younger than 6 months. Instead, use hats, clothing, and shading to protect small babies from the sun.

The Finishing Touch
Sunglasses protect eyes and the surrounding tender skin.

Avoid Tanning Booths
Tanning booths and sunlamps are not a safe alternative to natural sun. They use UV rays that can cause damage. Encourage your children to appreciate the beauty of their natural skin tone.

Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.


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