Health & Fitness

Don’t let summer fun lead to skin cancer

Summer brings longer daylight hours, lighter clothing and many outdoor activities. However, parents need to remember that extra time in the sun causes damage to their kids’ skin.

There are a number of common myths regarding basic skin care protection; let’s shed some light on how your family can maximize its summer fun while using the needed tools to protect your children’s skin, as well as your own.

Myth #1: Skin cancer is rare and I shouldn’t be worried about it.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the two most common types of skin cancer, followed by melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer. Exposure to ultraviolet light (UV), both natural from the sun and artificial from tanning beds, can cause skin cancer. Additional skin cancer risks include light skin color, a family history of skin cancer, sun exposure, a history of indoor tanning and a history of sunburns.

Basic tips to avoid sun damage include wearing sunscreen or protective clothing that covers the entire body. Seventy-five percent of UV radiation occurs between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., so plan for outdoor fun in the morning, late afternoon or early evening. Your kids should also wear hats and sunglasses to protect their eyes.

Myth #2: Sunscreens are messy and don’t work.

A variety of sunscreens have been designed for easy application and are available as creams, lotions, wipes and sprays. The cosmetic industry also includes sunscreen in makeup foundations for daily use. A sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 or higher should be selected for best protection. The frequency of sunscreen application depends on a number of factors, including humidity, strenuous activity and swimming, but it should be reapplied every couple of hours during peak sunlight.

Myth #3: Sunscreen is only necessary if you burn easily.

Accumulated exposure to ultraviolet light significantly increases your child’s risk of developing skin cancer, whether or not he or she suffered from a sunburn. Being in the sun continually can cause premature aging, thinning and discoloration of the skin. In addition, repeated sunburns during youth are linked to an increased risk of skin cancer later in life.

Early sunscreen use can decrease the risk of developing skin cancer by up to 75 percent. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outside. Infants less than 6 months old should be dressed in protective clothing and kept in the shade.

Myth #4: Skin cancer can only be found by my doctor.

Skin cancers can be detected by you, family, friends or, believe it or not, even a hairstylist who notices a changing mole or lesion. Be aware of lesions on you and your child, taking into consideration the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma.

“A” stands for asymmetry. Look for moles that have an irregular shape.

“B” is for borders. Be aware of lesions with jagged or irregular edges.

“C” is for color, encouraging you to look for moles with multiple colors or uneven coloring.

“D” stands for a lesion with a diameter greater than 6mm, which is approximately the size of a pencil eraser.

“E” is for evolving or changing lesions, which should be a red flag for you.

If you detect one of the above symptoms, it is important that you seek medical help as soon as possible.

Myth #5: There is nothing you can do once you get a sunburn.

A sunburn becomes apparent a few hours after exposure. Sunburns may worsen over 24 to 48 hours and heal within a few days. The most important treatment is to stay out of the sun. Drinking plenty of water to help replace any fluid loss is also recommended. A topical moisturizing cream or hydrocortisone cream can help provide relief. If blistering occurs, do not break open the blisters as this can slow the healing process or cause an infection.

If the sunburn covers a large area of the body or is associated with high fever, dehydration and pain, it is crucial to seek medical attention.

The key to keeping your child’s skin healthy through adulthood is protection. Remember sunblock, protective clothing and accessories, and picking the right time of day to be outside, will maximize your outdoor summer fun. If, however, you suspect your child has a mole or lesion that is abnormal, immediately schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.

Kate E. Oberlin, M.D., is a second-year dermatology resident, Keyvan Nouri, M.D., is chief of dermatology services at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and Lawrence A. Schachner, M.D., is director of pediatric dermatology at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit