New study calls for protection of children from sun damage

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When it comes to skin cancer prevention, it's never too early to start thinking about sun safety. That’s why a new recommendation calls for parents to protect young infants from the sun.     

Dr. Thomas Knackstedt of Cleveland Clinic says the recommendation applies to children with fair skin, who are considered to be at higher risk for sun damage.  

"The big change is that when we talk about the counseling of individuals at high-risk for skin cancer regarding sun protection, we've now lowered the age to start that counseling to include parents with infants older than six months," he says. 

He says infants have different skin than adults and are therefore more susceptible to sunburn, because their skin is not fully developed yet.  

As far as people with fair-skin being at higher risk for skin cancer, he says it all comes down to what makes fair skin, fair.  

While all skin colors have the same number of pigment producing cells, the amount of melanin, which is a brown pigment that the skin produces, is different from person to person. 

Dr. Knackstedt says that melanin changes the energy that the sun directs towards the skin, so the less melanin your skin has, the less protected it is.  

But regardless of your skin's natural pigmentation, he says that it's important for everyone to practice sun safety by using sunscreen, UV protective clothing, or sun avoidance to keep from adding to your lifetime sun exposure.

"It's the cumulative sun exposure that causes risk for certain skin cancers where for others it's the number of high-risk sunburns that you accumulate, and so, childhood sun exposure is very dangerous in that regard," Dr. Knackstedt. says.

In young children, he says it's best to use physical barriers, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide sunscreens and UV protectant clothing. He says that infants under six months of age should not be taken in the sun at all.  

The complete recommendation statement can be found in JAMA.