According to a new survey from the American Academy of Dermatology, 74% of parents today say they worry about sun protection more with their children than their parents did with them, and 90% of parents believe it’s important to teach their children healthy habits now so they will keep them when they are adults.

Since sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, dermatologists suggest that the survey results are an encouraging sign that sun protection knowledge and action is improving across generations.

“Research shows that it only takes one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence to nearly double a person’s risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, later in life,” says board-certified dermatologist Ali Hendi, MD, FAAD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, in a media release.

“It’s great news that more parents today are aware of the risks associated with sun exposure and recognize the importance of protecting their children from the sun.” 

The increased awareness could stem from increased knowledge about skin cancer prevention and sun protection, Hendi adds, signaling that public education on these topics might be paying off. For example, according to the survey, most Americans report knowing that it’s possible to get sunburned on a cloudy day; that sunscreen has an expiration date; and that people with dark skin tones can get skin cancer, too. 

Hendi’s patient Sharman Dudley, a mother of two, knows firsthand how critical it is to practice safe sun, both for herself and her family. Diagnosed with melanoma four times, Dudley says she’s grateful her skin cancers were detected early, when they were most treatable. This experience makes her particularly mindful of her kids’ skin health now as well. 

“While we still enjoy the outdoors, having melanoma has changed the way I plan our activities outdoors, like making sure to find or create shade during periods of peak sunlight,” she says. “We also don’t leave our house without wearing sunscreen and bringing wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses with UV protection, and lightweight and long-sleeved shirts that we can throw on when needed.” 

Hendi reiterates that sunscreen isn’t the only way for busy parents to shield their kids from the sun, but rather one component of a comprehensive sun protection plan. He outlines additional steps parents can take to keep their children safe while outdoors:   

  1. Seek shade, particularly between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm, when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Shade is the best way to protect children from the sun, especially if they are younger than 6 months old. Keep your children in the shade as much as possible, and if you can’t find shade, create your own using an umbrella, canopy or the hood of a stroller.
  2. Dress kids in sun-protective clothing, such as a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible.
  3. Avoid sunscreen use on children younger than 6 months old. Keep infants in the shade, and protect their skin using sun-protective clothing, including hats that shade the neck and ears.
  4. If shade and adequate clothing are not available, apply sunscreen to all skin not covered by clothing to children older than 6 months old. Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are less likely to irritate a child’s sensitive skin. Remember to reapply every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or sweating, as there is no such thing as “waterproof” sunscreen.
  5. Wear sun-protective swimwear, and use extra caution near water and sand, as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase the chance of sunburn.
  6. Stay safe on hot days. In addition to sun protection, keep your family safe on hot days by making sure your kids drink plenty of fluids and do not get overheated. 

Hendi also suggests keeping sun-protective items near the front door and in your bag to ensure they’re always ready when you’re on the go — a routine that Dudley’s family takes seriously. 

“Surviving melanoma has given me the opportunity to serve as a role model for my teenage children,” she says. “I’m a fierce advocate for practicing safe sun and taking control of your health, which could save your life.”   

Hendi echoes the importance of practicing safe sun, both for parents and their kids. However, although most parents prioritize sun protection for their kids, this doesn’t always translate to protecting themselves from the sun. According to the survey, 40% of survey respondents reported that they’ve applied sunscreen to their kids but didn’t apply it to themselves.

“Sun protection is important at every stage of life, from childhood to adulthood,” Hendi notes. “Always protect yourself and your family from the sun and see a board-certified dermatologist if you have any questions about how to use sun protection and other ways to prevent skin cancer.”

[Source: American Academy of Dermatology]