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How to Protect Your Child’s Skin From the Sun’s Harmful Rays

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Words by Rachel Curry

Sun damage can happen as early as infancy—here’s how Delawareans can protect themselves and their children.


Skin cancer is no joke—and what’s scary is that science shows risk for the disease starts as early as infancy.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, nonmelanoma skin cancers are the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States. More than 3 million people are diagnosed with basal or squamous cell carcinomas annually, while it estimates that over a million people are affected by the more aggressive—and often fatal—melanoma.

Dr. Gina Caputo, D.O., of Premier Dermatology in Newark points out that Delaware had the third- highest incidences of melanoma between 2011 and 2015 (Utah and Vermont had the highest number), but squamous cell carcinoma can also be deadly if left untreated.

“Sun damage is cumulative,” Caputo says, meaning childhood exposure to UV rays can lead to skin cancer later in life. So, what can Delawareans do to protect themselves and their children?

“Wear a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, even in winter and fall months,” Caputo advises. Make sure you’re slathering it on all sun-exposed skin—including easy-to-miss areas like the back of the neck, ears and toes—and reapply every 90 minutes. If you sweat or get wet, reapply more frequently.

“This is very important for families who have children who play outdoor sports during the school year,” Caputo adds, emphasizing that applying it only when you’re at the beach or in the pool isn’t enough.

Not all sunblocks are created equal, she notes. She prefers physical blockers over chemical ones, because they “are less irritating, less likely to cause allergic reactions and less likely to burn upon application,” she explains.

Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients like avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone, which work to absorb UV rays and turn them into heat. These chemicals soak into the skin and, eventually, the bloodstream. Physical blockers (those with mineral ingredients, like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) remain on top of the skin to reflect rays rather than absorb them.

“Children tend to have sensitive skin, and physical blockers cater to that,” Caputo says, before adding: “However, the best sunscreen is the one the patient uses.”


Published as “Baby, It’s Bright Outside” in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of 302Health magazine.

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