The American Academy of Pediatrics, in March of 2011, released its latest recommendations on limiting sun exposure in children. They also supported legislation that prohibits tanning salons for minors.
Education about UV radiation is important for all children, but especially for those children who are at high risk for developing skin cancer: those with light eyes and skin, those who freckle and burn easily, and those with a family history of melanoma.
UVA radiation does not burn skin like UVB radiation does, and we are still learning about whether or not it causes or contributes to skin cancer. We do know that UVA radiation penetrates skin deeper and cause premature aging (which is to say, it causes wrinkling of your skin).
Peak sun radiation time is about 10 am to 4 pm, so this is a 6 hour window when we should try to minimize exposure. Important steps include the use of hats and clothing, applying sunscreen, and wearing sunglasses. Infants under 6 months old, with their VERY sensitive skin, should really be kept out of direct sunlight, and dressed in lightweight long pants, long sleeve shirts, and brimmed hats that shade the head and neck.
For children over 6 months, covering up is still a great defense. Brimmed hats, baseball hats with the bill facing forward, sunglasses (look for labels that say the sunglasses block 97-100% of BOTH UVA and UVB rays), and tight weave cotton clothing.
Sunscreen should be labelled as SPF 15 or greater and protect against BOTH UVA and UVB. There are new product labeling rules about this, and you should find that the labels now say “broad-spectrum” – that means it will screen out both UVB and UVA rays. There is a new UVA “star” system, with one star providing the lowest protection and four stars providing the highest UVA protection. Make sure that enough sunscreen is applied. The general rule is that an adult or adolescent needs one ounce of lotion or cream Remember to re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours, or after swimming or sweating. It is also important to remember that water, sand, concrete, and snow all reflect UV rays and this can result in a quicker sunburn! Oftentimes we see people putting their sunscreen on once they are already outside in the sun, but we should apply it about 30 minutes before sun exposure to give the sunscreen time to bind and absorb into the skin.
Tanning salons can add a whole other level of danger, as the intensity of the cancer causing ultraviolet radiation in some tanning units can be 10 to 15 times higher than midday sun! The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Dermatology, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all support legislation that prohibits use of tanning salons and other artificial tanning devices by children under 18 years old.