Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and it only takes one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence to nearly double a person's chance of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, later in life. This is why it's imperative, say dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology, that parents do everything they can to protect their infants from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays and teach their children healthy sun care habits – starting at an early age.
"Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, including melanoma," said board-certified pediatric dermatologist Sheila Fallon Friedlander, a professor of pediatrics and dermatology at the University of California San Diego. "To help ensure your baby's safety, keep sun-safety items near the front door, in your car and in your diaper bag so that you always have them ready when you're on-the-go."
For additional ways to keep your child safe, Dr. Friedlander recommends the following tips:
- Keep your baby in the shade. Shade is the best way to shield your baby from the sun, especially if he or she is younger than 6 months old. Keep your baby in the shade as much as possible, and if you can't find shade, create your own using an umbrella, canopy or the hood of a stroller.
- Dress your baby in sun-protective clothing, such as a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt and pants. In addition, make sure your baby always wears a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection.
- Minimize sunscreen use on children younger than 6 months old, but use it when needed. If shade and adequate clothing are not available, parents and caretakers may apply a minimal amount of broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to their children's skin. Sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are less likely to irritate a baby's sensitive skin. Remember to reapply your child's sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating, as there is no such thing as "waterproof" sunscreen.
- Stay safe on hot days. In addition to sun protection, stay safe on hot days by making sure your baby does not get overheated and drinks plenty of fluids. If your baby is fussy, crying excessively or has redness on any exposed skin, take him or her indoors immediately.
"Sun protection is important at every stage of life, including infancy," said Dr. Friedlander. "Always protect yourself and your family from the sun, and see a board-certified dermatologist if you have any questions about how to care for your baby's skin."