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How can I help my child reduce the risk of melanoma?

It's never too early to start protecting your children against sun damage, and if you are the parent of a young girl this message is especially important.

"Even one blistering sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer. As few as five sunburns can double your risk of skin cancer," says Dr. Anjali Dahiya, a dermatologist at the Iris Cantor Women's Health Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Teenage girls and their parents should be particularly careful, since melanoma, a potentially fatal skin cancer, is the most common cancer in young women between the ages of 25 and 29. Much of the damage from the sun in these patients will already have occurred in their teens.

"Sun exposure plays a significant role in the development of melanoma. Although more adults are using sunscreens during outdoor activities, many are unaware of how important it is to make sure that their children are getting the necessary skin protection," says Dr. Desiree Ratner, director of dermatologic surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

Drs. Dahiya and Ratner recommend the following guidelines to help protect teens, tweens and infants from the harmful effects of the sun:
  • Use self-tanning creams. Tanning beds are not good for anyone. Teenagers and young adults looking to get that perfect tan should use tanning creams to get a safe summer glow.
  • Be wary of freckles. Developing freckles may be a sign that the skin has sustained early sun damage.
  • Apply sunscreen generously. Teens and tweens should apply sunscreen to the entire surface of their body about 30 minutes before going outside; if they are swimming, they should reapply once they are out of the water. Parents should apply approximately one ounce of sunscreen to their infant's body as well.
  • Make it easy. Parents of tweens should find a spray-form sunscreen that is waterproof and sweat proof. This will make it more convenient to apply sunscreen to your growing child every day, and more effective.
  • Minimize exposure to the sun. In addition to applying sunscreen, everyone should be guarding against the sun with hats, sunglasses and umbrellas when appropriate. Babies up to 6 months of age should be kept out of the sun completely.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.