Baby talk: Protecting my sunshines

Your children depend on you to protect them from the sun

Growing up we were four siblings, all born within about two years of each other. I was the third and the only girl. As such I was duly dubbed "The Little Princess" and mercilessly teased by my two older brothers - and in return mercilessly teased my little brother David. Greg, the bookish eldest, was our sometime ringleader, sometime babysitter. Later, after he went off to college on scholarship, popular Nick took over. He was the debonaire one who always had beautiful, usually blonde girlfriends. All my classmates swooned over him, though I could never see why: He was just Nick, the brother who had to deal with pimples, use deodorant and shave before any of us. In short, a hormone-oozing icky boy. (I was a late bloomer to the world of men.) He was as crafty as he was charming: He was the brother who told my parents when in high school we were sentenced together to a rare Saturday detention that it was because I had made him perpetually late when he drove me to school (which I had) - and not that he had been caught skipping school to go out to eat. (Such ingratitude! And I even paid him gas/hush money.) A real entrepreneur, he was made manager of two Blockbuster video stores by age 18. Had he not gone to university he'd likely have ended up the youngest district manager. He always exuded control, which served him well later in life when he joined the US military. He was the brother who cared about his looks and spent hours grooming in front of the mirror - and more hours sitting in the sun, getting some color. At one point he even had one of those reflector devices you hold to intensify and even out your tan. Nick died of melanoma at 22, just two months after he was diagnosed in the summer of 1995. THIS WEEK was dedicated to skin cancer awareness in Israel. According to the Israel Cancer Society, "Children who were born in Israel, or the children of immigrants (from the FSU, Europe, the US, North Africa, etc.) are at higher risk for skin cancer than their parents or grandparents who made aliya as adults. Being out in the burning sun, especially as young children, is the leading cause of developing skin cancer and melanoma." As I read further through the top 10 high-risk groups, I realized that my kids fit five of the categories. With my family's record (in addition to Nick, both my grandmothers and my only two uncles have also had skin cancer), it was time to find out how to properly protect my little sunshines. During the summer, the Israel Cancer Society recommends keeping babies out of the sun between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. If there is no choice and a child must be taken outdoors, the society writes that the most important sun protection is clothing: shirts with sleeves, pants, socks and a wide-brimmed hat. In addition to the protective clothing, all exposed skin should be slathered with sunscreen over SPF 30. According to the society's literature, children under a year of age shouldn't generally use sunscreen. However, if the choice is between him burning in the sun or using it, then the lotion is the better alternative. The society suggests buying sunscreen without perfume and testing a small spot on the baby's stomach or back before sloshing it all over his body. You could also use a zinc stick on his nose, cheeks and lips. One should expose babies to the sun as little as possible (the vitamin D they need can be absorbed in two to three minutes, even in the shade) and protect them with parasols or other forms of shade. It is not recommended to take babies to pools or the sea during the morning or afternoon. With older kids, you should make sure they keep their clothes on outside (not an easy feat), and when in water it is recommended that they wear a full-body swimsuit or a shirt over trunks. They must also wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Ball caps and visors are not effective sun blockers as they do not protect ears and necks. Parents are instructed to put a double layer of sunscreen (SPF 30, preferably water resistant) on their charges, 15 to 30 minutes before leaving the house and again after the first layer has dried. It should be reapplied every hour or two if the child maintains laboratory conditions and isn't in water, sweating excessively or getting down and dirty (for instance rolling in sand). If he is a normal, active child, it should be applied more often. Other hints * People can burn easily on cloudy days or while sitting in the shade. The worst burn I ever had was after sitting on a Delaware beach reading on a cool, overcast day. A child's unprotected tender skin can burn in even a few minutes. * The society repeatedly prints that while sunscreen is important, clothing and hats are most important. Additionally, sunscreen is only about 90% effective in preventing harmful UV rays. It should only be used in combination with shade and other protective measures. * Something that parents often forget is to protect their child's lips as well. The Cancer Society suggests purchasing one of the many sticks on the market that advertise a protection of SPF 15 or higher. * Being an Israeli organization, the society offers suggestions of how not to be a freier (sucker) and how to find a good deal on sunscreen. According to its literature, several kupot holim (health providers) offer discounts at their designated drug stores for members who have supplementary insurance. And, it suggests, watch for pre- and post-season sales in larger chains and stock up. Who is at higher risk? * The light skinned, fair haired and freckled * Those who burn quickly or don't tan * People with many moles * Babies, children and the elderly * Those who work outdoors or spend lots of time outside * Water sportsmen * Those taking medicines that cause photosensitivity * People who have had an organ transplant * Those whose close family has had skin cancer * Children of immigrants For more information: 1-800-599-995 or The writer is the mother of twin toddlers and a three-year-old.