Children: It’s Never Too Early to Begin Their Education
How early can we start educating children about melanoma? Actually, we should start by educating parents before children are born. MIF has developed prenatal or postnatal education classes, where parents can be taught about protecting their children from the sun. Very early on, parents can set an example for their children by taking appropriate precautions against overexposure to the sun. It is important for parents to realize that an attitude of “do as I say, not as I do,” confuses the message for children. If avoiding excessive sun becomes an acceptable goal in our culture, the behaviors associated with it will become the norm.
When School Lets Out
Summer camps and summer sports programs are of special concern. Kids get huge amounts of sun exposure, playing on exposed shade free astro-turf or fields at high noon. Keeping sunscreen lotion on and reapplying frequently just won’t do the trick. We, at MIF, believe in rescheduling the time for outdoor play to the sunsafe times, early in the morning or late afternoon. Plan the arts and crafts times in the shade during the noon time hours. Shading with trees, trellises, or awnings would provide some respite, and some improvement to playgrounds wide open to the sun.
Sensible Sun Tips
- In general, seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, generously applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen, and following the UV index forecast to avoid sunlight during peak hours can help you avoid damaging sun exposure.
- Remember that the shorter the shadow you cast, the greater your risk from sun exposure.
- Go to special lengths to protect your children from the sun; their skin is especially vulnerable to damage, and sunburns in childhood increase the risk of melanoma in adulthood.
- Before six months of age, children should have little direct exposure to the sun. Keep toddlers out of the sun during hours of peak intensity by planning outdoor activities outside these hours.
- Since children tend to imitate their parents (until they become teens), set a good example by covering them and yourself and avoiding outdoor activities during hours of prime intensity, ideally the three hours before and after solar noon.
- Don’t patronize tanning salons.
- During times of intense sun, wear protective clothing, preferably in tight weaves. If you can see through the cloth when it is held up to light, then it probably offers inadequate protection. The sun protection factor for a typical t-shirt is only 6 — and much lower when the shirt gets wet.
- Don’t forget your head. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, with at least a four-inch brim all the way around. (Don’t wear a baseball cap backward!)
- Make sure your sunscreen covers your ears and your neck up to the hairline.
- Protect your skin even on cloudy days. Clouds let most of the UV light pass through. Beach umbrellas and other shading devices offer only partial protection, because sand reflects a great deal of UV light. Apply a heavy, even coat of sunscreen lotion forty-five minutes before you go out, and reapply it frequently on humid days and when you’ll be swimming or sweating a lot—even if the product is supposedly waterproof.
- Protect yourself with sunscreen when skiing too. Snow reflects more radiation, and the intensity of the sun’s rays increases at high altitudes.
- Be cautious about using certain prescription drugs that increase sun sensitivity, such as some acne medications, antibiotics like doxycycline or tetracycline, and some diuretics. (Check with your pharmacist.) Don’t consume alcohol and sit in the sun—you might fall asleep and get burned.
- “Bottled tans” are safe to use, but they don’t provide any protection from the sun. Be aware that insect repellents, especially those containing DEET, dramatically reduce the effectiveness of your sunscreen lotion.
Source: Poole, Catherine, Guerry, DuPont, M.D., Melanoma Prevention Detection and Treatment, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.
UPDATED: June 6, 2014