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Skin Cancer Protection Starts in Infancy

Skin Damage During First Year of Life Raises Skin Cancer Risk Later, Researchers Say
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Mother and infant playing on beach

June 6, 2011 -- As summer kicks into full gear, parents of newborns and toddlers must take special care to protect their child’s skin from the sun’s damaging rays.

The changes that lead to skin cancer may actually begin during baby’s first year, when an infant’s skin is most vulnerable to burns and sun damage, according to a new report in the July issue of Pediatrics.

“The ultimate goal of sun protection is to protect all parts of the skin exposed to the sun by using a variety of techniques, including sunscreen in infants older than 6 months,” write researchers led by Amy S. Paller, MD, a dermatologist at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University in Chicago.

Sun avoidance is recommended for children under 6 months of age, and older children should avoid midday sun and wear sun-protective clothing, wide-rimmed hats, and sunglasses.

Choosing Sunscreen for Tots

It’s not easy to find sunscreen for infants and toddlers. “Sunscreens for infants must be non-irritating to the skin and eyes and have aesthetic qualities that encourage effective application by caregivers,” the researchers write.

Many moms may prefer that infant sunscreen leave a temporary film so they can be sure all exposed body parts are well covered. In addition, water-resistance is an important quality for infant and toddler sunscreens.

New York City dermatologist Doris Day, MD, says that “newborns, infants, and toddlers have skin that is continuing to develop.” This is evidenced by the fact that pigments and moles don’t always show up right at birth.

“Their skin is still evolving and maturing and it is really important to protect it,” she says.

Questions on the best way to do this -- including which ingredients are safest and how often the sunscreen should be re-reapplied -- remain, she says.

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