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Skin Cancer Protection Starts in Infancy

Skin Damage During First Year of Life Raises Skin Cancer Risk Later, Researchers Say

The ABCs of Infant Sun Protection continued...

It is important that a sunscreen blocks against UVA and UVB rays. The FDA has proposed a 4-star rating system for UVA protection. Sun protection factor (SPF) mainly refers to UVB protection, Day says.

“UVA rays are strong all day long and can penetrate through glass," she says. Clear protective coatings for car and home windows can shield a baby from UVA rays,” she says.

Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin because our bodies make it when exposed to sunlight. Day suggests checking children’s vitamin D levels periodically to make sure they don’t dip too low because of sun protection measures. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with many health problems.

Infant and toddlers’ skin barrier protection is quite immature,” says Roya Samuels, MD, a pediatrician at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park. “A child’s skin has structural quality that makes it more vulnerable to the effects of UV radiation, and this can result in an increased risk of later skin cancer.”

The sunscreen should have an SPF of 15 or higher, she says.

Practical Advice for Parents

Ravinder Khaira, MD, a pediatrician with Sutter Independent Physicians in Sacramento, Calif., says that applying sunscreen -- and reapplying it according to the directions -- is the No. 1 way to prevent sunburn and sun damage that can lead to skin cancers when children grow up.

Take special care to cover their ears, nose, and scalp, he says.

Young children do have highly sensitive skin, so it’s a good idea to do a small patch test before slathering on a new sunscreen. “Test it on the forearm and wait about 30 to 40 minutes to see if any hives, swelling, redness, or itchiness occur,” Khaira says.

If children get sunscreen in their eyes, flush their eyes and face with cold water to minimize any irritation, he says.

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