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How to protect your children against skin cancer

Did you know that two blistering burns before the age of 18 can dramatically increase your child’s chances of getting skin cancer?

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), 20 000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every year. Following safe-sun practices is the best way to protect children from developing skin cancer later in life.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is a type of cancer that grows in the cells of the skin. It can spread to and damage nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. Although skin cancer is very rare in children, sun exposure during childhood can increase your child’s risk of developing skin cancer as they grow older. Paediatric melanoma represents only about one percent of new melanoma cases diagnosed in the United States each year (current statistics are unavailable for SA). However, although still rare, malignant melanoma is the most common skin cancer in children and teens. It increased by about two percent annually from the 1970s through 2009, primarily in teens.

Valuable sun protection tips that may save your child’s life

Here is some valuable advice to help you protect your children against skin cancer this summer.

  • The sun’s rays are harshest between 10 am and 3 pm and this is when children should avoid the sun completely.
  • Children should never use sunbeds and sunlamps as they increase the risk of melanoma by a whopping 50%.
  • Always apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher on your child when they are outdoors, and apply more every time your child swims or uses a towel to dry their body.
  • Ensure that your child always wears thickly woven hats with wide brims and clothes that block UV rays when on the beach. When you shop for your child’s costume and suntan lotions, look out for products with the CANSA seal of recognition (CSOR). They protect against both UVA and UVB rays. (UVA rays cause ageing and UVB rays cause burning.)
  • Don’t forget to protect your child’s eyes and lips by ensuring that they wear sunglasses with UV protection of UV400 and use lip balm with a minimum of SPF 20.
  • Babies under the age of one should never be exposed to direct sunlight. Toddlers and small children should wear sunscreen with as high a protection factor as possible (SPF 60 sunscreens are available for little ones) and those UV-protected all-in-one swimsuits that cover the chest, back, and thighs.


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