Health Team

Sun could harm babies, toddlers later in life

Posted June 9, 2011 2:01 p.m. EDT
Updated June 9, 2011 6:23 p.m. EDT

Parents need to protect infants and toddlers from the sun because skin damage from childhood could harm them later in life, according to a new report published in the journal Pediatrics.

The report states that sun damage from as early as an infant's first summer can lead to skin cancer later in life.

Young children's skin is "incredibly sensitive to ultraviolet radiation," said Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "We know that the more exposure earlier in childhood, the greater the risk later in life for skin cancers such as melanoma."

Dermatologists recommend that babies under 6 months shouldn't be in the sunlight and that older children should try to stay indoors in the middle of the day when the sun is strongest.

Parents should apply sunscreen heavily and then reapply it every two hours. Day said that children should have sunscreen on even during cloudy days because damaging rays can still get through and cause burns.

Look for sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or higher, she said, noting that those that are thicker and contain zinc and titanium are best.

"Those are more opaque, so they really are physical protection that help reflect the sun, rather than being absorbed into the skin," Day said.

Since these sunscreens aren't absorbed, a child is less likely to have skin irritation or a reaction to the lotion, she said.

Nine-month-old Margot Elkins loves to play outside, so her mom always makes sure she's well protected.

"Before we leave in the morning and I'm dressing her, I put sunscreen on her," Aliciane Elkins said.

Parents should also dress children in sun-protective clothing, sunglasses and hats, Day said.

Elkins dresses her daughter in such clothing because she wants her to have fun in the sun and stay safe too.

"You hear so many reports about the sun just being so incredibly dangerous," she said.