Sun protection is important. We keep hearing it every year, but the message doesn’t seem to be getting through.
Although parents are usually very conscientious about protecting babies from the sun, once children start walking, sun protection too often takes a back seat to the many potential dangers to which little ones are exposed. And yet, unless sun protection practices are established early in life as inviolable habits, just like using seatbelts in a vehicle, children often drop these good habits as they get older.
Childhood is the most critical time for avoiding the damages caused by the sun. Up to 80 percent the sun’s damages to the skin and eyes occur by age 18. Numerous studies have shown that the more children are exposed to the sun early in life, especially if they suffer serious sunburns, the greater their eventual risk of developing skin cancer. And contrary to popular belief, even individuals with dark skin are at risk for skin cancer and can suffer damages caused by the sun, including premature skin aging.
Some large-scale studies have already shown the benefits of applying sunscreen regularly and reducing one’s exposure to the sun. Among other benefits, these good habits help prevent the development of beauty marks that can turn into cancer later on. A 10-year study of 1,621 Australians between the ages of 25 and 75 found that those who used sunscreen daily on their face and body had a 50 percent lower risk of developing melanomas – the most aggressive form of skin cancer – than those who used it less often.
So just as children must be taught to brush their teeth every day, their daily routine should include applying sunscreen. They should also avoid prolonged exposure to the sun in the middle of the day, when the sun’s rays are the most damaging.