You probably think you're on the ball when it comes to sun safety: You always put sunscreen on your kids, and they rarely, if ever, come home looking like a lobster. However, new research has found that overall sun exposure in childhood -- not just burns -- significantly increases the risk of skin cancer. "Young, developing skin may be particularly vulnerable to UV rays," says Parents advisor Lawrence Eichenfield, MD, chief of pediatric and adolescent dermatology at Rady Children's Hospital, in San Diego. "If your child is getting intense sun exposure playing outdoors, she's in danger of developing melanoma -- the most serious type of skin cancer -- even if she has what appears to be a healthy tan." Childhood melanoma is rare -- most cases don't show up until adulthood -- but the number of kids diagnosed has been increasing almost 3 percent every year.
If all this news makes you want to grab your kids and move into a cave, don't panic: There's plenty you can do to keep them safe. The best protection is still lots of broad-spectrum sunscreen, which blocks both UVA and UVB rays. One study of more than 300 kids found that those who wore sunscreen whenever they were outside for more than 30 minutes developed significantly fewer moles than those who wore sunscreen sporadically or not at all. (The more moles a child has, the greater his lifetime risk of skin cancer.) Just as important: limiting the time your kids spend in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and making sure they wear protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses. We teamed up with experts from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) to bring you real-world ways to protect your family without spoiling your summer.