Actinic keratosis is a precancerous skin disease characterized by dry, rough, scaly patches of skin on the body, face, scalp and/or lips. An outgrowth of prolonged exposure to the sun or UV light , actinic keratosis tends to be slow growing and generally do not appear until after 40 years of age. This being said, actinic keratosis is typically not found in children. Given the fact, however that 50-80% of a person’s lifetime sun-exposure occurs before the age of 18 (kidshealth.org), careful attention to sun care should be a priority. The focus for parents and caregivers, therefore, needs to be sun safety and preventative measures to protect children from future issues with sun damaged skin and the potential for skin cancer in their adult life.
The first and perhaps most important step to take for both you and your child is to wear protective sunscreen whenever you are exposed to the sun, not just during “beach time”. Setting a good example creates good habits in children. The largest percentage of sun damage actually occurs during “incidental exposure” while simply playing or working. That “healthy tan” from a day of playing outdoors is actually the first sign of sun damage.
Sunscreen should be generally be applied frequently and generously approximately 30 minutes before a child goes outside and every 2 to 3 hours afterwards. The American Academy of Dermatologists (AAD) recommends an SPF of at least 15 for all children. It is important to note that sunscreen should never be put on children under 6 months of age. Children at this age need to be kept out of the sun and covered up or shaded.
Older children, particularly those with fairer skin and lighter hair and eyes, should also wear clothing and hats that provide coverage during outside play. Children with darker skin can also develop damaging sunburns and the same care is to be taken to avoid overexposure. This is true even during overcast days. Contrary to popular belief, UV rays are not “blocked out” by clouds. Sunburn can not only develop, but also initially go unnoticed or untreated in cooler or cloudy days. Ideally, the goal is to avoid sunburns and protect your child from future health issues such as actinic keratosis. Again, prevention is the best protection.
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