Here's an alarming fact every parent should know: Sun exposure in childhood can lead to early cancer as an adult.
And the problem is growing. Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon combined.
The two most common forms (basal cell and squamous cell) are highly treatable and tend to occur later in life, but the deadliest form, melanoma, strikes young adults and is the most common form of cancer for people age 25-29.
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is a strong risk factor for all skin cancers. Just one blistering sunburn in childhood doubles the chances for melanoma.
The FDA's new guidelines for sunscreen should make it easier for parents to protect their children.
The sun emits both UVA and UVB light. SPF only indicates the ability of a sunscreen to prevent sunburn from UVB light, but UVA light can cause premature aging and skin cancer. Under the new guidelines, a product labeled "broad spectrum" must provide as much UVA protection as it does UVB.
The words "waterproof" and "sweatproof" also no longer can be used because every product eventually will wash off. Some can be labeled "water resistant," but must state whether the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating.
Remember, skin cancer risk is related to the total lifetime sun exposure starting at birth. Keep babies under 6 months covered up. Loose fitting, lightweight long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a hat with a brim are essential for every baby in hot weather.
In general, sunscreen is not used for babies, but check with your pediatrician if sun exposure is unavoidable. In that case, small amounts of sunscreen may be advised.
For older children, sunscreen should be non-negotiable, just like a seatbelt or a bicycle helmet. Most people don't use enough, so put on more than you think is needed.
One of the best ways to avoid excessive sun exposure when swimming is to wear a swim shirt.
Dr. Amy Brodsky, a Chicago dermatologist, is launching an initiative this summer called "Cool in the Pool" with the help of Cubs announcer Len Kasper in a partnership with Banner Camp in Lake Forest. They want to make swim shirts trendy so that kids want to wear them.
Brodsky encourages parents to start using swim shirts at an early age since they provide 100 percent protection to the covered areas. Sunscreen still should be applied.
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.