CHILDREN AND THE SUN: 7 useful tips and answers to important parenting questions

Author: Dr. Ivan Peev, dermatologist at Esteline Clinic

There is no doubt that the sun’s rays are directly related to the development of one of the malignant tumors in the human body – melanoma.
This fact has been proven conclusively by a large-scale study covering 109,000 women between the ages of 25 and 42. In addition to the frequency of sun exposure, the study also examined other risk factors, such as the number of burns in childhood, the number of moles on the legs and the use of tanning beds.

The data is conclusive that women who have had 5 or more blistered burns before the age of 20 have an 80% higher risk of developing melanoma compared to women who did not burn at an early age. Because the participants had difficulty recalling their childhood sun exposure habits, the researchers resorted to additional calculations (of total UV dose, UV angle, and altitude).
Analyzes from the study showed that the risk of developing melanoma was directly related to early childhood sun exposure and the number of blister burns. Red-haired women who complained of sun-sensitive skin as children were also found to have a higher risk of developing any skin cancer.
However, the study group is a representative sample of the 3 million cases of melanoma worldwide, the number of which is growing every year.

What are the reasons why children’s skin is more susceptible to sun damage?

Like all the organs of the newborn, the baby’s skin is constantly developing.
It has been established that full functional maturity is reached at the end of the first year after birth. As for her protective mechanisms against the sun, they begin to manifest practically in the first summer. But it should be borne in mind that the amount of melanin in the skin of babies is several times less than that of adults. Therefore, its ability to protect itself from the sun’s rays is significantly more limited.

What is the correct approach to sun exposure in childhood?

1 Age

During the first 6 months, it is advisable to avoid the sun’s rays, due to the immaturity of the baby’s skin. After 6 months of age, a sunscreen product can be used, but only one with a mineral (physical) filter. For children over 3 years of age, most cosmetic brands offer specially developed sunscreen products with maximum SPF. They are more durable, waterproof and suitable for the child’s increased activity.

2 The pre-application

It should be noted that it takes between 15-20 minutes for the sunscreen to take effect after application. It is a very common and wrong practice for the child to smear himself until he turns white, and then immediately go out in the sun or enter the water.

3 The quantity

It is enough to apply approximately 2 tablespoons of cream to cover the entire body of the child. The smearing should be in sequence from top to bottom (ears – feet) – so the risk of missing an area is smaller.

4 The renewal

Sunscreen must be applied for at least 2 hours. On the beach, it is necessary to reapply after each exit from the water.

5 The hour

It is recommended that their children not be exposed to direct sunlight between 10am and 4pm, when the sun is at its strongest.

6 The personal example

Children learn good habits thanks to the good personal example of their parents and relatives. Therefore, the active role of parents is a key factor. They must provide it by regularly applying sunscreen themselves, putting on a hat, glasses, etc.
With older children, it is good to talk about the risks of burning, to explain why it is important when the child plays in the shade, to wear a hat and necessarily sunglasses (ultraviolet rays damage not only the skin, but also the eyes) .

7 Off the beach

When they are not on the beach, it is desirable that the children are dressed in light clothes and light fabrics. Many teenagers are addicted to tanning beds. Parents must very convincingly explain how dangerous this intense radiation can be for their health.

What should we do if the child’s skin reacts (e.g. with a rash) to the used sun protection product?

Fortunately, allergy to modern sunscreens is very rare. They are well purified from preservatives. If an allergic reaction occurs after the application of the cream, which is expressed by itching, small pimples or swelling, the use of this product should be stopped and the treatment of the allergy should be started. If there is no possibility of such treatment, it is good to wait 1-2 days, until the rash subsides, during which time the child should avoid the sun. After this period, choose and apply a sun protection product that is completely with a mineral filter.

Should moles on children’s skin be removed?

Although melanoma is a rare disease in children and at this age is mainly caused by genetic burden, there is an annual increase in cases of 2%, in the age group of 15-19 years. There are no contraindications to removing childhood moles if the specialist suspects melanoma. On the contrary – it would be more dangerous if no action is taken! Removal must be operative. Anesthesia can be general or local depending on the age of the child. If a child has been treated for melanoma, preventive examinations for moles must continue regularly throughout life. Special attention should be paid to children with congenital moles.

Should we stop sun exposure altogether for children with moles and/or skin that burns easily?

Of course not. Children need the Sun to grow up healthy and happy. The sun has an extremely beneficial effect on mental health and sleep. If the child is prone to burning, i.e. has light skin, hair and eyes, all the measures described above are absolutely mandatory and exposure to the sun should be very moderate. For example, the first day for 10 minutes, on the second day – 15 minutes, etc., so that the skin has time to adapt.

Does childhood sun allergy go away with age?

What people mistake for a sun allergy is, to doctors, a “polymorphic light eruption.” Characteristic of the condition are red or white-tipped pimples or spots that appear on the neckline, armpits or shoulders at the first stronger rays of the sun.
Sun allergy is not characteristic of children. It usually develops in adolescence. Different allergic rashes can occur in children, which are provoked when the sun reacts with a substance found on the skin or if the child takes a drug that increases the sensitivity of the skin to the sun. Such conditions are transitory and pass when the cause is identified and avoided.