Infants, Toddlers: Too Little Sun Protection

Kids Need to Wear Sunscreen, Hats, Shirts, Shades for Skin Cancer Protection

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 16, 2004 -- After a child's first summer, mothers often lapse in protecting the child's skin from the sun, new research shows. Yet that's a critical time to wear sunscreen and cover arms and legs, to protect against skin cancer.

"Painful sunburns during childhood are particularly important in the development of melanoma, a life-threatening form of skin cancer... yet "at least two-thirds of U.S. children are not adequately protected from the sun," writes researcher Lori Steinberg Benjes, MD, a professor of dermatology at Boston University.

Her study appears in the latest issue of the Archives of Dermatology.

In it, Benjes surveyed 92 families -- all with newborns -- to learn about their sun protection efforts during their child's first and second years. All the families lived in Falmouth, Mass., where a well-publicized sun protection education program was underway.

Despite the publicity, mothers quit protecting their babies' skin early on. After the first summer (when the children were about six months old), skin damage rates increased from 22% to 54% the second summer, when they were about 18 months old, Benjes reports.

Fewer hats, long-sleeved shirts, and shades were used after children reached six months, she writes. Yet more than 90% of mothers reported routinely using sunscreen during the child's second summer.

What's going on? As children become more active, mothers may have trouble keeping hats and shirts on them, writes Benjes. Also, mothers may not realize that wearing sunscreen alone is not adequate protection, she adds. Because there were few fully shaded playgrounds and pool sites in Falmouth, that was a problem.

While children are in newborn through toddler stages, mothers must be more proactive with safe-sun strategies, she writes. Sun protection must be taught as part of a routine.

When kids hit preadolescence, it's another critical time to bolster the message: Wear sunscreen and cover skin during peak times of the day to prevent skin cancer.

SOURCE: Benjes, L. Archives of Dermatology, August 2000; vol 140: pp 925-930.

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