Babies have less melanin in their skin, making them more susceptible to sunburn, which increases the risk of skin cancer later in life.

Protect young children from the sun

Toasted tots are no fun, as the parents of any kid who gets a bad sunburn can attest.

By the time children can run around, most moms, even many dads, are reasonably conscientious about slathering the youngsters with sunscreen when they're outside for any length of time.

But sun protection for babies can be more daunting. One study found that 54 percent of children got a sunburn or deep tan by their second summer; 22 percent in their first year.

Just one blistering sunburn as a child more than doubles a person's odds of developing melanoma later in life. And 60 percent to 80 percent of a person's lifetime sun exposure comes in the first 18 years of life.

"Children should not be getting sunburned at any age," said Dr. Perry Robins, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. "Parents need to be extra vigilant about sun protection all the time."

Hard as it is, infants 6 months and under simply have to stay out of the sun. Their skin has very little melanin, the pigment that gives skin color and also provides some sun protection.

Beach umbrellas, shade tents, awnings and hats are not enough — just the reflection of sun from sand or a playground can be enough to fry sensitive skin. Any excursions need to happen before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m., when ultraviolet rays are weaker.

When you do go out, dress your infant in lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs and a wide-brimmed hat that covers the face, neck and ears. The stroller or carrier should have a shade cover, as should any untinted rear windows of a car on a ride of any distance.

While there are concerns that infant skin before 6 months of age may be too sensitive for sunscreens, the American Academy of Pediatrics says applying sunscreen formulated for kids (tear-free) to small areas that can't be covered easily, like the face and back of the hands, is OK even for very young babies.

Use at least an SPF 15 rating of protection against ultraviolet B rays, and a rating of at least a couple of stars on the new 4-star scale for ultraviolet A solar-ray protection.

The toughest task of all, for all ages, may be remembering to apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going out, because the stuff needs to be absorbed to be fully effective. And apply it again every two hours, or after swimming or heavy exercise.

Skin-cancer-prevention advocates also note that while people with darker skin are less susceptible to skin cancer — by some estimates, melanin levels in the skin of some African-Americans is equal to an SPF 13 — they still face considerable risk from skin cancer.

According to one recent study, incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, rose 32.4 percent among Latinos between 1992 and 2005. Other studies suggest that by the time Hispanics are treated for melanoma, they are more likely to have thick tumors with a poor prognosis compared to Caucasians diagnosed with the same cancer.

Among African-Americans, the five-year survival rate with melanoma is 59 percent, compared to 85 percent in whites.

Researchers think other factors, including genetics and prior injuries to the skin, may drive skin cancer — particularly melanoma — in many people of color more than does sun exposure. Still, skin colors can vary widely within ethnic groups, and those with lighter skin remain at higher risk.

At least partly because the skin-cancer risk in people of color is thought to be lower, and since tumors are likely to develop in less obvious places, such as the palms of the hand, soles of the feet or in the mouth, doctors may be less careful in screening them and have more difficulty identifying cancers. experts note.

On the Net:

Share This Story