Keep Babies Out of Sun to Reduce Risk of Skin Cancer

HOUSTON (July 5, 2011) – Plan on having fun in the sun this summer with your family?

If your answer is yes and your family includes a baby, the Harris County Hospital District’s dermatology experts want you to protect the littlest member from the sun’s harmful rays.

“Infants have delicate and thin skin, which doesn’t have as much pigment as adult skin,” said Dr. Carolyn Bangert, dermatologist at HCHD’s Quentin Mease Community Hospital and UTHealth physician. “This results in babies getting easily sunburned. Parents have to be careful to not expose their baby to the sun for extended periods of time.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half a person’s lifetime UV exposure typically occurs during childhood and adolescence. Starting a sun protection habit now will spare babies from sunburn and reduce the risk of skin cancer later in life.

“There is an association between sunburns in childhood and an increased risk of developing skin cancer such as basal cell carcinoma and melanoma in adulthood,” Bangert said.

Sunburns can happen within 15 minutes of being in the sun, and just a few serious sunburns can increase a child’s risk of skin cancer later in life according to the CDC.

While parents can use sunscreen on their baby, Bangert says that is the last resort. The best protection is to avoid high intensity or prolonged sun exposure altogether.

However, since you can’t spend all your time cooped up in the house, follow these tips to ensure your baby stays sunburn free:

• Seek shade – UV rays are strongest and most harmful during midday, so it’s best to plan indoor activities between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If this is not possible, seek shade under a tree, an umbrella, or a porch. Make use of the stroller or car seat canopy cover. Shade does not prevent sunburn, and people can get sunburned even on cloudy days or in the shade, but it does lessen the amount of UV exposure.

• Cover up – clothing that covers your child’s skin helps protect against UV rays more effectively than sunscreen. While a long-sleeve shirt and long pants with a tight weave are best, they aren’t always practical.

• Get a hat – hats that shade the face, scalp, ears and neck offer great protection. Some hats are available with specific UV protection.

• Wear sunglasses – they protect your child’s eyes from UV rays. Look for sunglasses that wrap around and are labeled 100 percent UVA and UVB rays

• Apply sunscreen – use sunscreen with at least SPF 15. For best protection, apply 30 minutes before going outdoors, and use two coats. Dr. Bangert suggests Neutrogena’s® sensitive skin sunscreen for babies. Remember to reapply every few hours, and more frequently with swimming or significant sweating.

Source: Centers for Disease Control

If despite taking all precautions, your baby does get sunburned, Dr. Bangert suggests soothing the burns with moisturizing cream.

“Refrigerate creams such as Cetaphil® or Aquafor® before applying them to provide a cool feeling on the skin and reduce the pain. Tylenol® may be necessary for severe sunburns,” Bangert said.

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