How to reduce your child’s risk of skin cancer

With the temperature rising and summer around the corner, it’s natural to want head out to the beach and soak up the sun. But in honour of childhood cancer awareness month i.e. gold ribbon month, Moneybags writer Alina Hardcastle reviews advice from experts about how to reduce the risk of skin cancer, particularly during childhood.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure during school years contributes significantly to total lifetime sun exposure. So, with the assistance of Cancer of South Africa (CANSA) and other experts, we encourage parents and children to be sun-safe by advising the following:

  • Perform self-examinations, monthly: It’s important to check you and your family’s skin carefully every month. If you think either you or your child may be at risk for cancer, or notice changes in your skin during self-examination, visit your doctor. For images of the warning signs of cancer, click here.
  • Seek shade: UV rays are strongest and most harmful during 10:00 and 15:00, so it is best to plan indoor activities for children during this time. If this is not possible, they should be taught to seek shade under a tree or an umbrella.
  • Use an effective sunscreen: Be sure to use a sunscreen with an SPF of between 20 and 50 or 30 and 50 for fair to very fair skin. Note that products usually expire two years after manufacture, so don’t use a product that has been opened and used after years have passed. To view the lists of CANSA’s SunSmart sunscreen partner, click here.
  • Apply sunscreen correctly: For the best protection, apply sunscreen generously 20 to 30 minutes before the child goes outdoors. Do not forget to protect ears, noses, lips, and the tops of feet. It must be kept in mind that sunscreen is not meant to allow children to spend more time in the sun than they would otherwise.
  • Wear protective clothing: Children should cover up whenever they are in the sun. When possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can provide protection from UV rays. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection.
  • Wear Hats: Hats that shade the face, scalp, ears, and neck are easy to use and give great protection. Caps are popular among children, but they do not protect the ears and neck. If a child chooses a cap, be sure to protect exposed areas with sunscreen.
  • Vitamin D requirements: Small and regulated amounts of sun exposure can help one’s body to manufacture its own vitamin D. Many don’t realise but you only need five to 15 minutes of sunlight between 10:00 and 15:00 twice a week to the face, arms and legs or back without sunscreen.  For those with fair skin, it’s recommended that you limit you exposure to the sun to 10 minutes or less. If this is not enough, children and parents can make use of supplements.
  • Avoid sunbeds and sunlamps: The WHO does not recommend the use of UV tanning devices for cosmetic reasons. Most tanning beds emit mainly UVA rays – which increase the risk of malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
  • Educate and protect children: The youth need to take heed when spending time in the sun as just one blistering sun-burn in your childhood or adolescences more than doubles a person’s chance of developing melanoma later in life. So it’s important that parents and schools educate children about being sun smart.

Sun exposure protection for 0 to 12 Months

In regards to new-borns, The US Food and Drug Administration and Skin Cancer Foundation recommend that infants under six months of age should be kept out of direct sunlight and should avoid the use of sunscreen. Only once the infant is over six months, liberal amounts of sunscreen should be applied once they are allowed in the sun for short periods of time. Parents should also take note of the following:

  • When choosing a baby sunscreen, pick a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
  • Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours – more often if the baby is spending time in the water or perspiring.
  • Apply the broad-spectrum sunscreen at least 20 -30 minutes before letting the child go into the sun.
  • To avoid irritating the baby’s skin and eyes, use a sunscreen that contains only inorganic filters, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
  • Test the sunscreen on a small area of the baby or toddler’s skin to check for any skin reactions.

Prevention is better than a cure

It’s important to remember that just a few serious sunburns can increase a child’s risk of skin cancer later in life. Taking simple steps now can go a long way towards protecting a child from the risks of sun exposure.

To show your support to those battling cancer around the world, CHOC Childhood cancer foundation SA is encouraging all South Africans to “Go for Gold” by purchasing the gold ribbon from the online CHOC store or nearest offices. The ribbon is to be worn throughout the month of September. For more information, click here.