Melanoma Is on the Rise in Children

Melanoma is on the rise in children. Learn how to protect your children in the sun while still having fun.

Classic beach picture

There are few sights cuter than a toddler waddling her way along the beach.

There are few sights sadder than a toddler with a raging sunburn, particularly to the eyes of a dermatologist. That’s because we know how damaging even one sunburn can be to a child. In fact, just one blistering sunburn in childhood will more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. 

An infant’s skin has very little melanin (the pigment that gives the skin its color) which makes them especially vulnerable to sun damage. This is why babies 6 months old and younger should be kept out of the sun completely. Sunscreen is too harsh for their delicate infant skin.

Why is sun protection so important? Because we know that sun damage causes skin cancer in children, adolescents, and adults. While melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is still rare in children, a new report published in April 2013, shows that it is actually rising in children. Researchers from Washington University and Harvard have found that the incidence of childhood and adolescent melanoma has increased an average of 2% per year from 1973 to 2009. Moreover, melanoma is nine times more common between the ages of 10 and 20 than it is between birth and 10 years. So, protecting your child from the sun will help protect her from skin cancer throughout her life.

Here’s how to keep your child safe while still having fun in the sun:

  • Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 to 50 about 20 minutes before heading outdoors. Reapply every 2 to 4 hours, or more frequently if your child is sweating or swimming. Don’t forget to apply it to their ears, neck, hairline, hands, and feet. Do not use sunscreen on children 6 months old and younger.
  • Cover up: Your child won’t get a sunburn through clothing. So wearing lightweight protective clothing such as long-sleeved tops and pants is an excellent way to prevent sun damage. Consider buying a protective baby suit like this one or a sun-protective rash guard clothing like this long-sleeved top for toddlers.
  • Hats & Sunglasses: They’re not just fashion accessories; they’re sun-protective.
  • Seek the shade: Remember that the sun is strongest between 10am and 4pm, so limiting your child’s time outdoors during those hours will help. If that’s not possible, then be sure to sneak in shade breaks throughout the day.

Skincancer.org offers more helpful information about sun protection for infants, babies, and toddlers.

One more thing…. Have you gotten naked for someone you love yet? May is Melanoma Awareness Month which means it’s time to get naked and do a skin exam. Please help spread the word by posting about this and about your skin check! Use the hashtag #GNFSYL on Twitter.

Photo credit: FCC, Stevie Lee