Sun Smarts: Kids, Sunscreen and Melanoma

This article was featured in the Orange County Register on August 19, 2013 and was written by Shaleek Wilson.

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Orange County is one of the sunniest places in California, with hundreds of sun days per year. With that comes the need for protection. Improper protection can increase risk for skin cancer. “People get skin cancers, the most serious being melanoma, because we get too much exposure to the sunlight,” says Dr. Sender. To ward off harmful UVA and UVB rays, use sunscreen. “Most people don’t put enough on,” explains Dr. Sender. “We recommend about an ounce for each area of exposed skin, i.e. leg or arm.”


SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It should be applied liberally and more often than most people think, he explains. “Sunscreen should be put on 30 minutes before you go out in the sun,” says Dr. Sender. So, what’s the magic number? 15? 50? 100? “Never go in the sun with less than SPF 30,” he says. “Use the broad-spectrum variety and reapply every two hours.”


Melanoma accounts for 4% of all skin cancers. Malignant (life-threatening) melanoma starts in cells that produce pigment (color) in skin. It usually begins as a mole that turns cancerous. People with all skin types may be affected, but those who are fair-skinned and burn easily are at a higher risk, says Dr. Sender.


Although melanoma is still rare in kids, parents should make checking for moles part of their monthly routine. Look for Asymmetry, Border, Color and Diameter. “Get to know your child’s skin; if all the moles look the same and one is different, that’s the one you need to worry about,” Dr. Sender says. “It should never be bigger than a pencil eraser.”

With early detection, melanoma is curable, so be safe and use common sense in the sun:

  • Apply sunscreen, even on infants 6 months and older
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats
  • Protect your eyes; wear sunglasses


  • Cases of skin cancer in the U.S. every year: 1.3 Million
  • Percentage of sun rays blocked when SPF 30 is applied: 90%
  • Time of day when the sun is the strongest: 10am – 4pm


CHOC Pediatric Cancer Specialist
Dr. Leonard Sender
CHOC Pediatric
Cancer Specialist


Dr. Sender is the Medical Director of Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC’s Children’s as well as CHOC Children’s Specialists Division chief of Oncology; and Medical Director of Clinical Oncology Services at UC Irvine Medical Center’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. He completed his fellowship in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology including Hematopoietic Progenitor Cell Transplantation.

University of Witwatersrand School of Medicine, South Africa

Pediatric Hematology/Oncology

More about Dr. Sender


Bailey is our champion, that’s for sure.

Bailey Spoonhower, 9, was treated at CHOC for, and beat, a rare type of cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. He had some advice for kids that feel nervous about coming to the hospital.

Children’s Miracle Network and Walmart have named Bailey the Champion for California. To read more about our efforts with Children’s Miracle Network, click here.