Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Many people already know that sunscreen helps prevent UV radiation from damaging your skin and reduces your risk for skin cancer. But you may not know how early to start thinking about sun protection.
Start Sun Protection Early
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently released new skin cancer prevention recommendations. Their update mentions that health care providers should educate parents of fair-skinned children about ways to prevent skin cancer— starting when the child is 6 months old. This is a vast change from their previous recommendations, which suggested this same conversation should happen once the child is 10 years old. It’s OK to use sunscreen on infants older than 6 months. For babies younger than 6 months old, parents should try to keep them out of the sun.
Educate Children and Adolescents
When kids are exposed to UV radiation during childhood and adolescence, they have an increased risk of developing skin cancer in adulthood. This is especially true for those who experienced intense sunburns. Research shows though that when children learn about protecting their skin, they’re more likely to practice sun safety. Here are some tips they should learn now and carry with them throughout life:
- Avoid the sun during peak UV hours. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., find shade or go inside.
- Choose sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher. Also look for broad spectrum on the label. This means it blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
- Lather up 30 minutes before you go outside. Then reapply sunscreen every two hours or after sweating excessively or swimming.
- Dress for the sun. In addition to sunscreen, use UV-blocking sunglasses, sun-protective clothing and a broadbrimmed hat when you’re outside.
- Avoid tanning beds.
Schedule Regular Skin Exams
Talk with a doctor about how frequently you should get your skin checked if you or a loved one:
- Use tanning beds
- Have a lot of moles and get freckles from the sun
- Sunburn easily
- Have a light skin tone
- Have blue or green eyes
- Have blond or red hair
- Have a family or personal history of skin cancer
Dr. Deirdre Hooper is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical, cosmetic, and laser dermatology. In addition to her private practice, Dr. Hooper is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Dermatology at both Louisiana State University and Tulane University.