While sun protection is often associated with hot summer days, harmful ultraviolet rays are present year-round and can be just as dangerous on the schoolyard as they are at the beach.
Because UV rays are associated with about 86 percent of melanomas and 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers, children must be diligent about sun protection when they head back to school. Parents also play a role, by teaching kids to lead a sun-safe lifestyle.
"There is a well-established link between sun exposure and skin cancer risk," said Perry Robins, M.D., president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. "Children and teens spend most of their time at school, so it's important that they incorporate sun protection into their everyday lives, as it's the best method of skin cancer prevention."
The Skin Cancer Foundation offers the following recommendations to keep kids sun-safe when at school:
•The sun's UV rays are strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is when students are usually outside for recess, physical education and afterschool programs. Check with the school to see if there are adequate places for students to seek shade during outdoor activities.
•Clothing is the single most effective form of sun protection. Send students to school in densely woven and bright- or dark-colored fabrics, which offer the best defense. The more skin you cover, the better, so choose long sleeves and long pants whenever possible.
•Send children to school with a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses to protect their face, neck, ears and eyes. If they won't wear a wide-brimmed hat, a baseball cap is better than nothing.
•Parents should apply a broad spectrum SPF 15-plus sunscreen to their children's skin every morning, at least 30 minutes before going outside. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours outdoors and right after swimming or sweating heavily.
•Older children should learn to apply sunscreen themselves, and make it a routine habit. For extended time outdoors, a broad spectrum SPF 30-plus sunscreen should be used instead.
•One ounce of sunscreen (about the size of a golf ball) should be applied to all exposed areas of skin. Remind children to cover those easy-to-miss spots, such as the back of ears and neck, as well as the tops of the feet and hands.
The Skin Cancer Foundation strives to educate children about the dangers of skin cancer and the importance of incorporating sun protection into everyday life. The foundation's interactive education program, Sun Smart U, includes a robust website for teachers and a free downloadable lesson plan.
For more information, visit www.skincancer.org/education.