Teenagers may think a tan makes them more attractive–parents often think that a tan is good for their child’s vitamin D levels. This current cultural trend/myth, combined with increased ultraviolet radiation, makes skin care and sun protection a more compelling issue than in the past. The effects of sun exposure are cumulative and can cause wrinkling, toughening, and even cancer in the skin. Newborns today have a projected 1:33 risk of melanoma versus the 1:1500 chance of children born in 1935. That is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO direct sunlight exposure for infants under 6 months of age. Infants have lower levels of (protective) melanin, thinner epidermis, and a higher surface area/ body mass ratio.
UVB, which is generally thought to be the culprit, can cause sunburns and skin cancer. People initially believed that tanning beds, which emit UVA, were safe because they used a different wavelength. Actually, UVA suppresses the immune system in the skin and can facilitate the damage and cancer promotion of UVB sunlight.
When it comes to sun and children, parents should have their children avoid midday sun, wear protective clothing/hats/sunglasses, and use lots of sunscreen.
Paller AS, Hawk JL,Honig P, Giam YC, Hoath S, Mack MC, Stamatas GN. “New Insights about Infant and Toddler Skin: Implications for Sun Protection” (Pediatrics) 2011 Jul; 128 (1): 92-102.
Rigel DS. “Cutaneous Ultraviolet Exposure and its Relationship to the Development of Skin Cancer” Journal American Academy of Dermatology. 2008; 58 (5 suppl): S 129-S132.