Summertime sunshine. Kids create some of their happiest memories during the summer months, but time in the sun needs to be protected. Sunburns result in serious long-term consequences for children, and several easy steps can help protect your children while they continue to make memories.
Can Sun Damage a Kid’s Skin?
In a word: Yes. In fact, it’s the childhood sunburns that end up resulting in skin cancer as an adult. The burn may come and go now, but 20 years later it has developed into skin cancer.
Many times, adults end up with a series of skin cancers linked to a bad summer where they burned time after time. In their youth, it didn’t seem so bad. Now, those sunburns turned into rapid-fire cases of cancer such as basal cell, squamous cell, or even melanoma. Preventing those burns early on prevents the cancer.
Do Genetics Determine Who Gets Skin Cancer?
With enough sun exposure, anyone can develop skin cancer. Some people have more of a tendency to develop skin cancers, particularly melanoma, than others. Think of a person’s genetic makeup like a system with certain triggers. A sunburn is a trigger that can start the growth of skin cancer. Sunburns are always a catalyst for skin cancer, some people just have higher odds of developing that growth.
How to Prepare Kids for the Sun
To start, select the right sunscreen to use on your child. Choose a lotion (rather than a spray) with at least a 40 SPF and if you’re going to the pool, make sure it’s water-resistant. Lotions create a physical barrier to the sun whereas sprays rely on a chemical barrier. Sprays also make it easy to miss a spot that then gets burned whereas a lotion lasts longer and provides increased coverage.
Next, make sunscreen application a habit. Put on the sunscreen as a part of a child’s getting dressed routine. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the tops of the feet and the ears. Often overlooked when applying sunscreen, these areas burn easily.
By putting sunscreen on thoroughly before you go outside or to the water, you allow time for the sunscreen to dry and create a barrier on the skin. Once you’re at the pool and the kids start playing, it’s almost too late to apply. Before the sunscreen can fully dry, the kids are already sweating or swimming it off. Having it on early keeps it effective.
Also, dress for sun protection. Protect the face from sun exposure with a hat. Use rash guards for children on the beach or at the pool, and consider long-sleeves during outdoor time.
You may want to send these items when your children stay with others, in addition to reminding others about applying sunscreen. When kids go over to somebody else’s house, they’re usually at a higher risk of getting burned. This isn’t a sign of irresponsibility but rather a lack of awareness. Maybe the person doesn’t have children and just isn’t in the routine applying sunscreen. Or maybe your child doesn’t like sunscreen and convinces the adult to let them skip it. Whatever the case, make sure to talk with these adults about sunscreen routines and expectations.
Finally, always reapply! Multiplying the SPF strength by 10 equals how many minutes the sunscreen will last. For example, if you wear SPF 15, you would need to reapply every 2 1/2 hours at the least. Frequent sunscreen application keeps your skin protected (See: Which Sunscreen SPF is Enough For Your Skin?)
Our kids’ skin is precious. Sun protection and sunburn prevention helps keep it safe from harm, both presently and for years to come.
Dr. R. Todd Plott is a board-certified dermatologist in Coppell, Keller, and Saginaw, TX. His specialization and professional interests include treating patients suffering with acne, identifying and solving complex skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, and identifying and treating all types of skin cancers. In his spare time, Dr. Plott enjoys cycling, traveling with his wife, and spending time with his children and new grandson.
Learn more about Dr. Plott.