Sunshine–glorious sunshine–who doesn’t love the sun’s warming rays on a beautiful day. In fact, everyone benefits from regular sun exposure. The suns rays help your body make Vitamin D, which helps us absorb calcium to strengthen our bones. It takes very little time–typically 20 minutes or less–though to get all of the sunlight you need each day.

Too much unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause skin damage, eye damage, weaken our immune system and skin cancer. When you consider some of the most prevalent cancers, you may naturally fear breast or lung cancer. But did you know that every year, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed than all new breast, lung, colon and prostate cancers combined?

Every hour, someone in the US dies of skin cancer; and 1 in 5 people will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. Parents, as leaders in your family, you’re the role models who can teach by example how to play safely and protect your body’s largest organ–your skin!–in the sun. Set a good example and always model sun protection and cancer prevention.

Skin cancer is one of the most commonly occurring cancers — and also one of the most preventable. Experts agree these are the basics to prevent skin cancer:

  • Skip out on the midday sun. The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 am and 2 pm
  • Seek shade. When you’re outdoors, stay in the shade as much as possible. Sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat help, too. Consider adding sunscreen as umbrellas, trees and shade structures only protect you from overhead sun–you still have reflected sunlight off of surfaces like the ocean or a lake, a playground or a parking lot, and even sidewalks reflect the sun’s light out
  • Dress for Success. Wear tightly woven, loose fitting cotton clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible. Opt for bright or dark colors, which reflect–rather than absorb–more ultraviolet radiation than do pastels or bleached cotton.
  • Slather on the sunscreen. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even on cloudy days. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you’re swimming or perspiring.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. These are just as damaging as natural sunlight and are directly linked to increased skin cancer risks.

Ironically, skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Every year in the US, 29,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in women. The deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma kills an estimated 3,000 women in the US annually.

This is why its essential for parents and caregivers to practice good sun damage prevention for themselves as well as for their children, especially babies. Sun damage is cumulative over a lifetime–the more damage means the greater the risk of skin cancer.

Ultraviolet rays damage skin

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun are an invisible form of radiation. If left unprotected, these rays penetrate your skin, damaging your skin cells. Sunburns are skin damage, and despite their popularity, suntans aren’t healthy. And skin damage doesn’t just happen in summer; UV rays are present during all seasons, in all temperatures and even on cloudy, overcast days, causing long term effects in your eyes, wrinkles and spots on your skin, and cancer.

Sunscreens protect skin

“Popular sunscreens protect us from the damaging effects of UV light in four ways—by reflecting UV, absorbing UV, decreasing UV and decreasing antioxidant damage created by UV,” said dermatologist Zoe D. Draelos, MD, FAAD, consulting professor at Duke University School of Medicine.

Newborns up to 6 months of age shouldn’t wear sunscreen; opt instead for protective hats, sunglasses and clothes, say experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics, who also say it’s best to keep newborns out of direct sunlight. From age 6 months on, begin with an SPF of 15. If not, choose lowest SPF available and apply sparingly. Find shade under a tree, umbrella, or use the stroller canopy to add additional protection.

Slip, Slop, Slap,  and Wrap!

Experts at the American Cancer Society shares it this way: “Slip! Slop! Slap!… and Wrap.” If you are going to be in the sun, this catchy phrase will help you remember the four best ways to protect yourself in the sun:

  • Slip on a shirt
  • Slop on sunscreen
  • Slap on a hat
  • Wrap sunglasses to protect yours eyes and sensitive skin around them

Skin Surveillance

Even at birth, it’s never too early to start protecting baby’s skin–as well as everyone in baby’s family. Your baby’s health care provider can guide you as to when you may need to see a pediatric dermatologist for skin issues beyond regular wellness care. Your child’s pediatrician may start advising annual skin checks for your all of your children starting around age 12.


LaShea Haynes MEd, MSN, APRN, AGCNS-BC, RNC, C-EFM, is Editor of Healthy Mom&Baby magazine, and a leader in obstetric nursing for more than 26 years. She is also a staff nurse, certified doula and founder & owner of her own nurse mentoring, education and consulting company.

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