NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – It’s never too early to think about skin cancer prevention – starting with babies.
But when is it OK to use sunscreen on infants? And what type should you use?
Obviously, babies have very sensitive skin. That means they’re more likely to burn in the sun, putting them at greater risk for skin cancer later in life. But it also means they’re more sensitive to chemicals in sunscreen.
Burn after burn, you don’t have to look very hard on social media to find nasty examples of sunburns. That’s why these moms make it a point to lather up their kids.
“I’m very concerned about sunscreen, because I know I burned a lot as a kid and now I have concerns about myself and skin cancer, and I don’t want my kids to have to go through the same thing,” said mother Sarah Blask.
That’s especially important for infants. Their skin isn’t fully developed yet, so they’re more susceptible to sunburn. Studies have shown that while all sun exposure increases the chances for skin cancer in later years, it’s childhood sunburns that really spike the risk.
“It’s the cumulative sun exposure that causes risk for certain skin cancers, whereas for others it’s the number of high-risk sunburns that you accumulate. So, childhood sun exposure is very dangerous in that regard,” Dr. Thomas Knackstedt, of Cleveland Clinic, said.
That’s what led the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to add a new recommendation for parents to protect young infants from the sun.
“The big change is that when we talk about the counseling of individuals at high-risk for skin cancer regarding sun protection, we’ve now lowered the age to start that counseling to include parents with infants older than six months,” said Knackstedt.
Dermatologists say that sunscreen of at least SPF 30 is essential for infants. But because their skin can be sensitive, look for so-called physical barrier sunscreens. Those contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and avoid the chemical sunscreens that can irritate young skin. Or try using UV-protective clothing for your kids.
“It’s so nice that bathing suits have long sleeves now, because it makes such a big difference,” mother Tina Lyons said.
Kids love to go to the pool or beach and play outside, so make it a routine, especially in the summer, to apply sunscreen early and often. Early because if you use chemical sunscreen on older kids, it takes about a half hour to take effect. And often because sunscreen washes or sweats off.