Childhood Sunscreen Use May Reduce Risk of Melanoma

August 16, 2018
Dr. Samantha Stoler

Parents taking their children out to the pool over the Summer now have additional data to encourage their kids’ use of sun protection. A recent study published in the Dermatology Journal of the American Medical Association shows that 18-40 year olds who regularly used sunscreen in childhood had 40% less risk of developing melanoma before age 40.

This study of Australians also identified factors that were associated with sunscreen use. Regular users of sunscreen were more likely to be female, younger, and of British or northern European ancestry and to have higher educational levels, lighter skin pigmentation, and a stronger history of blistering sunburn.

It has been well established by earlier studies that sun exposure and sunburns, particularly during childhood, are associated with an increased risk of melanoma as adults. This study takes it a step further by showing that regular sunscreen use as a child can protect against the melanoma-inducing effects of sun exposure.

Another important reported finding is that high risk groups (fair skin, multiple moles) who used sunscreen in order to stay in the sun longer did not have decreased melanoma risk.

The take home message is that sunscreen in childhood can reduce the risk of cutaneous melanoma. However, in higher risk groups that reduced risk is reversed if sunscreen is used only to stay in the sun for extended periods of time.

Dermatologists recommend that children over 6 months wear a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide based sunscreen whenever they leave the house. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 1-2 hours depending on the outdoor activity. Protective clothing including UPF shirts, hats, and sunglasses are just as important. The UV index in Colorado is extremely high. Even if kids are not burning, they are accumulating UV damage with daily short-term exposures.

In children, moles should be judged in a similar way to adults. We use the ABCDEs
(asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolution) as a loose index for judging suspicious lesions. Kids that have more moles (especially atypical or imperfect ones) or a family history of melanoma should be screened professionally.

The Dermatologists at AboutSkin in Denver, Colorado (offices in Greenwood Village and Lone Tree) are all board-certified MDs. We offer comprehensive care of the skin including medical evaluation and surgery, Mohs surgery, and aesthetic procedures.