By Dr. Jill Olinger, Dermatology

The American Academy of Dermatology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have declared May Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Now is definitely a good time to assess your children’s risk for skin cancer and to gather everything you need for summer skin protection. This May is a particularly auspicious time with a “shelter-in-place” state mandate leaving many of us feeling cooped up, stressed out, and ready to venture outside.

Because parents and kids have been spending a significant amount of time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are ready to head outdoors early in the season. This will be a welcome change. However, more outdoor time exposes us to more sun damage. For children, this means cumulative sun damage and more DNA mutations that can lead to lifelong skin problems and the development of skin cancer. Skin cancers, in particular melanoma, can have fatal results if not detected and treated early in the course of disease.

What follows are important strategies to help keep children safe from the damaging results of ultraviolet rays:

  1. Try to minimize being in the sun during peak sun hours, 10:00a – 4:00p.
  2. Wear sunglasses, hats and sun-protective clothing rated with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor).
  3. Block sun damage to uncovered areas by applying a UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or greater. Make sure to reapply every two hours (more often if swimming or sweating).
  4. It is safe for infants over six months of age to use sunscreen. Infants under six months of age should be kept out of direct sun and be covered by sun-protective clothing.

Let us all reflect on how fortunate we are to live in Central Oregon and enjoy the natural beauty and ample opportunity for outdoor activity. Let us also remember to protect our children from the harmful effects of sun exposure. By instituting good sun-protective behaviors as early as infancy, we will provide our children the opportunity and knowledge to enjoy good skin health that will last a lifetime. Remember—prevention is key!