Kids love summer. School is out, they play outside and beach days are filled with sun and fun. While the benefits of outdoor play for kids are plentiful, there’s one thing parents should be mindful of: The importance of sun safety.
By now, most of us know about the dangers of skin cancer and skin damage due to sun exposure. But research has shown that many parents aren’t aware that children need just as much sun protection as adults. In fact, about 80% of skin cancers are linked to excessive sun exposure and a majority of them are related to childhood sun exposure.
Larisa Geskin, MD, professor of dermatology and director of the Comprehensive Cutaneous Oncology Center in the department of dermatology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, says sun exposure is one of the major modifiable risk factors for skin cancer and melanoma. She cited an alarming survey by the National Cancer Institute last year that revealed that only 12% of parents identify childhood sun exposure as a period of greatest risk for the future skin cancer.
“There are many reasons why there might be a link between childhood sun exposure and skin cancer. Children spend more time outside and their skin is thinner and therefore more vulnerable to the carcinogenic effects of UV rays,” Geskin says. “Sun block use is not enough to protect from the sun, even if applied regularly. Other measures are important as well, including staying in the shade and wearing sun protective clothing.”
Experts in dermatology, pediatrics and similar fields continue to raise awareness about sun protection for both kids and adults—including right here on Staten Island.
“In Staten Island we have noticed that parents and communities are unaware of the increasing rise in skin cancers,” Ana Mendez, MD, MPH, FAAP, chief of ambulatory pediatrics, Patient Centered Medical Home, Richmond University Medical Center, says. “By educating our parents and communities about sun safety, we are developing a culture of change that allows us to set up a chain reaction for future generations. Children are our future and we always need to protect them.”
Driving home the message of sun protection is important to staff at the Office of the Staten Island Borough President. That’s why the office has partnered with Richmond University Medical Center and Columbia University’s Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center—to help keep residents protected. The three institutions work together on sun safety in Staten Island under the Cancer Prevention in Action grant, funded by the New York State Health Department.
“Staten Island is the greenest of the five boroughs and often referred to as ‘The Borough of Parks,’” Ginny Mantello, MD, director of health and wellness at the Office of the Staten Island Island Borough President, says. “While we are always encouraging our children and their families to enjoy the outdoors, we also want to make sure we educate them on the risks and dangers of prolonged sun exposure as well as indoor tanning. I am extremely grateful to our partners at Columbia University’s Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center and Richmond University Medical Center as well as the New York State Health Department, for funding and supporting education and resources to support our community in this regard.”
Sun Safety Tips for Parents
Here are some additional ways to help protect your children’s skin, no matter what time of year:
- Seek Shade: UV rays are strongest during midday, so try to plan some indoor fun at this time. If you’re outside, try to seek shade under a tree, an umbrella or similar covering.
- Use Sunscreen: Use at least an SPF 15 and UVA/UVB protection when your child goes outside. You can find more information about sunscreen on many expert sites, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Sunglasses and Hats: These accessories are not only great for providing extra protection, but they’re also very stylish and fun! According to the CDC, look for sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
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