3 Questions: Infant Sunscreen, Tanning Beds & Skin Cancer

profile of baby wearing sun hat

Now that the summer is in full force, it’s time to protect yourself, and your family, from the damaging effects of the sun.  Dr. Stacia Miles, a dermatologist with The Austin Diagnostic Clinic in Westlake, answers the three most common questions she receives.

Question: Is it safe for me to use sunscreen on my infant?

Infants have extremely sensitive skin that needs to be protected. To prevent sunburn, children under 6 months of age should never be exposed to direct sunlight. But if you forgot your child’s wide-brimmed hat or your stroller isn’t providing enough shade, you can use small amounts of sunscreen.

Use a sunscreen made for children with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.  Use on exposed areas, such as the hands, feet, or face. The sunscreen bottle should be labeled “broad spectrum,” which means it screens out UVA and UVB rays. Make sure to test a small amount of the sunscreen on your baby’s skin to ensure the product doesn’t cause irritation.

Remember, sunscreen doesn’t work instantly so apply it at least 30 minutes before you head outside. Keeping infants safe from sunburns now can help keep them from developing skin cancer as adults.

Question: My teenage daughters use tanning booths. Are they harming their skin?

Yes. Artificial rays can cause skin damage and skin cancer just as the sun does.

Tanning beds and sunlamps emit high levels of UV radiation in a very short time, which is especially dangerous to teens whose skin cells are rapidly growing. Studies have shown that people who experience skin damage as children will be more likely to develop skin cancer later in life. Tanning beds and lamps may also cause eye damage and cataracts.

Some teens believe a tan makes them looks better.  Remind them that tanning indoors or outdoors can lead to early aging of the skin, including wrinkles and sun spots. Many tanning salons now offer spray tanning booths, which mist a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) over the skin to induce a tan. Lotions that contain DHA also are safe to use, but it’s best to find one which also has sunscreen in the product. Set a good example for your teens by avoiding the sun and using sunscreen every day.

Question: How should I examine myself and family members for signs of skin cancer?

Becoming familiar with your skin and your child’s skin is the best way to recognize any changes that might be a sign of skin cancer. While it’s rare for children to have skin cancer, teaching them the importance of performing a thorough skin self-exam once a month can help form a habit that may one day save their lives.

During the self-exam, you’ll look for sores that haven’t healed, moles that itch or bleed, or moles that have changed in size, shape or color. Stand in front of a mirror and look at both sides of your arms, your palms, under your arms, the stomach, the chest, and the front and back of both legs. Use a hand mirror to look at your face, neck, back of the neck, and ears. Have another adult family member look at your back closely. If any mole looks suspicious, make a doctor’s appointment.

Encourage young children to mimic you and explain to your teens the importance of catching skin cancer early.

Stacia Miles, M.D., is a board certified dermatologist with The Austin Diagnostic Clinic, a multi-specialty clinic in Austin. She specializes in medical dermatology, including the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer.