With warmer days come more opportunities to be out in the sun. As we bask in its rays on the beach, at the park, or at the pool and during other outdoor excursions, it is very key that we keep in mind all the dangers that come with extensive sun exposure.
Parents, in particular, have to also look out for their children to make sure they are minimizing the risks associated with fun in the sun: melanoma and skin cancer.
Atlanta, Georgia-based Dr. Amy Kim, a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon, offers the following advice for spotting melanoma and reducing a child’s risk of developing it:
First, make sure you know the ABDCEs of melanoma. These provide a guide in detecting suspicious moles.
A – Asymmetry. Moles that are asymmetric (meaning you can’t draw a line down the middle and match up both sides).
B – Borders. Moles with fuzzy or ill-defined borders.
C – Color. Moles with varying color throughout or two-toned moles.
D – Diameter. Larger moles, greater that 6mm in diameter.
E – Evolving. Moles that are changing. Moles should just exist. If any mole changes, make note and see your doctor.
- The average person develops moles after the age of six months and has between 6 and 20 moles. People with more than 50 moles have an increased risk of melanoma and should be checked regularly by a dermatologist.
- Birthmarks are moles that we are born with or that develop right after birth. Large birthmarks (8-12 cm equals about 3-5 inches) carry a higher risk of melanoma so it is recommended that they be removed. If your child has a large birthmark, show it to your pediatrician or dermatologist for further evaluation.
- People do not typically develop new moles after the age of 30. Anyone who develops a new mole that doesn’t look like their others (otherwise known as an “ugly duckling”) should see their dermatologist.
- Freckles are small brown patches that are the skin’s reaction to light exposure. If you start to see freckles on your child, slather on the sunscreen to avoid more sun exposure.
Lowering Your Child’s Risk of Melanoma
- Regular daily use of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher can reduce the risk of melanoma by 50%. Babies six months and older can use sunscreen on a daily basis.
- Look for chemical-free sunscreens with the active ingredients of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Both are hypoallergenic and non-irritating, but are very effective at protecting the skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays.
- Avoid sunscreens with nano particles, as they are so small they can pass through the skin, enter the bloodstream and end up in major organs. Spray sunscreens with nano particles can be inhaled and are not recommended. Instead, look for sunscreens with micronized particles. These sunscreens will leave a whitish film on the skin.
- Apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before sun exposure. A good rule of thumb is to apply sunscreen when putting on your baby or child’s swimsuit. This allows time for the sunscreen ingredients to bind to the skin and provide protection.
- Reapply sunscreen at least every 1 ½ hours and after water exposure, including sweating. Often people who are sunburned failed to reapply sunscreen.
- For added sun protection use UPF long-sleeved swim shirts and hats in addition to sunscreen.
Dr. Amy Kim is a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon who practices in Atlanta, Georgia. She is also the first dermatologist mom to release a line of infant skincare products, Baby Pibu.