When I picked up my two oldest kids from Cub Scout day camp last week, the first thing I noticed was the touch of sun on their cheeks, a bright pink that turned red by late evening.
“Did you put any sunblock on?” I asked my 10-year-old, knowing that I had given my kids two different kinds of sunblock to use, lotion and spray.
“I forgot,” my daughter replied quietly. Later, she complained of the sting as I put aloe on her face. Luckily, thanks to rashguard swimsuits, the sunburn was only minor and only on their faces.
But, in our family, we take sunburns seriously. My face is a constant reminder that we have to. In 2015, I was diagnosed with melanoma on my chin and it was removed successfully, but not without grafting skin from my neck and not without leaving a hook-shaped scar. Many people say they don’t notice it, but I know it’s there. And I use it as a lesson, when kids and adults do ask about it.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., with more than 9,500 people diagnosed with it each day. More than two people die of the disease every hour, according to the National Skin Cancer Foundation. Approximately one in five people will develop skin cancer before the age of 70.
While there are different types of skin cancer, Basal cell carcinoma being the most common and Squamous cell carcinoma the second most common, melanoma is the most deadly. An estimated 7,230 people will die of melanoma this year alone.
A person’s risk for melanoma also doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns, but having only one blistering sunburn during childhood can more than double the chances someone will develop melanoma later in life, research has found.
It’s a risk I’m not willing to take with my kids.
While skin cancer occurs primarily due to sun exposure, the risk for skin cancer can run in families, like mine. I was diagnosed with melanoma at 33. My uncle was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma when he was in college. A great-uncle of mine also had melanoma. It’s something I try to make sure my kids know about, so they know how important sunblock and protecting the skin really is, especially with our family history.
Before heading out to camp again the next morning, I reminded my two oldest kids to put on sunblock multiple times a day, and not to forget. So often we say things, and it rarely goes noticed. But later that day, I received an email from a camp organizer, which included a picture of my 7-year-old son attached. In it he was smiling proudly, looking at the camera, his dimpled cheeks clearly apparent underneath a thick layer of white sunscreen slathered across his face.
“He was so proud that he put on sunscreen by himself,” the camp organizer said.
Maybe some of what I’m teaching my kids is sinking in. I hope so, anyway.
Here are some sun-safety tips from the National Skin Cancer Foundation:
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Don’t get sunburned.
- Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 2 tablespoons of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours and after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of 6 months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month to look for new moles, or moles that are irregular shape or color.
- See a dermatologist annually for a professional skin exam.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.