Dear Diary,

Because of my daughter’s small size, my sister nicknamed her Bean. When she pulls the laundry—that took an hour to fold—out of the basket, I call her a Bad Bean. When she hits her cousins in the face, I tell her not to be a Mean Bean.  And when she eats all of her vegetables, I say she’s a Green Bean. One name I never want to use is Baked Bean. So now that the temperature is rising, I must ensure she’s protected from the sun’s harmful rays.

Since I lived in the Cayman Islands for seven years, sunscreen became a part of my morning ritual. You could pick up a bottle almost everywhere—at the pharmacy, the grocery store, the gas station and even a jerk chicken stand. I never knew so many brands even existed! The public health department didn’t launch educational campaigns, because most people slathered on SPF as soon as their babies came out of the womb. Maybe musical icon Bob Marley had something to do with that. The Jamaican legend died at the age of 36 from a melanoma that started under his toenail and spread to his brain. I took his memory with me when I returned to the United States, where I saw many African-Americans skipping sunscreen. Some people told me that they don’t get sunburn, so they don’t buy sunscreen. A few others believed the melanin in their skin would protect them from cancer causing rays. Unfortunately, that’s a major myth. Although ethnic groups are less likely to get skin cancer, they’re more likely to die from it.

I caught up with the leading African-American Pediatric Dermatologist Patricia Treadwell, to find out why brown babies need sunscreen too.

Many African-Americans think they won’t fall victim to skin cancer. Although our numbers of incidences are much lower than Caucasians, we often don’t diagnose the disease until the advance stages. Why is that so?

“African Americans tend to think that they don’t get skin cancer, so they don’t do the same surveillance of moles as their White counterparts,” said Dr. Treadwell.  “You must be aware of what melanoma looks like.  Talk to your doctor, look up information online about the ABCDE warning signs of skin cancer and educate yourself about the disease.”

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanin in African-American skin provides a sun protection factor (SPF) of about to 13.4, compared to 3.4 in Caucasian skin.  Is that enough?  What added protection do you recommend for babies?

“The SPF should be at least 15, but you generally don’t need to go higher than 30. I recommend choosing a “physical” or “chemical-free” sunscreen made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide,” said Dr. Treadwell. “These ingredients sit on top of the skin, forming a barrier against the sun’s rays and start protecting as soon as you put them on.”

Speaking of sitting on the skin, some sunscreens create a chalky, ghostly appearance on dark skin.  Or, it causes breakouts.  Are there other options to shield your child from carcinogenic rays?

“Some sunscreen lotions clog pores and create more oil on an already oily prone skin,” said Dr. Treadwell.  “In this case, you should select a facial sunscreen—which is much lighter—and use it all over your body. Also, if you have light or dark spots on your face—a common occurrence in my patients—the sunscreen helps even out your skin tone.”

What other steps should you take to protect babies from the sun?

“If your baby is under six months, you should try to keep her out of the sun whenever possible,” said Dr. Treadwell.  “If you must go out, find a shaded area or use an umbrella or the stroller canopy. And dress your baby in light, cool clothing to prevent a heat rash.”

What sunscreen regimens are other minority moms using?

“I don’t fool around when it comes to sunscreen!  I follow the EWGs annual rating system,” says Monique Johnson of Brooklyn, New York. “Problem is—most of the lowest ratings and therefore best sunscreens make brown folks look purple or white. I’ve tried tons and fell in love with All Terrain Aquasport of Kidsport sunscreen. It’s a pump spray, not an aerosol, and very easy to apply.  Skin color stays the same, and it even offers a nice level of moisture too. So far, my daughter’s sunburn free, and we’re always at the beach, pool or park.”

“I use sunscreen on my precious cargo whenever we go out, even if we don’t go beyond the backyard,” says Vee Elliot of Atlanta, Georgia. “I use Banana Boat kids spray in SPF 50 or greater.  For faces, I use Aveeno Baby Faces, something tear-free. We must teach our little ones the importance of protecting our skin like we remind them about brushing their teeth.”

“I use a spray sunscreen on my twin toddlers. Lotion is a doozy,” says Maisia Jackson of Middletown, Delaware. “I always check the labels for parabens. Some sunscreens for babies list that as an ingredient. I wouldn’t want to apply a cancer causing agent to my children’s skin when I am trying to prevent them from getting the disease.”

By the year 2050, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that half of our country’s population will be made up of Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to raise awareness about skin cancer in people of color.

Hey DFTM family–What sunscreen do you slather on your little ones to shield them from the sun?   After reading the interview, will you now be more vigilant applying  SPF?

About The Author

Vlog Mom/DFTM Creator

Not long ago, Heather Hopson hosted a television show in the Cayman Islands. Today, she's back home writing a different kind of story as a new mom. In her 15 years working as a professional journalist, this by far is her best assignment! Growing up, she dreamed of becoming Oprah Winfrey. She was the features editor for her school’s newspaper and a teen talk show host for her city’s most popular radio station. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Michigan State University. After graduation, she worked as a television producer and reporter at CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates throughout the U.S. Instead of heading to Chicago to join Ms. Winfrey on her set, she bought a plane ticket to the Cayman Islands instead. She arrived five days before a category five hurricane! She lived in paradise for seven years, hosted an award-winning television show and traveled the globe with a government delegation. She also served on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters and spearheaded a Send a Kid to Camp campaign. Then, she relocated to Washington, D.C. to obtain a teaching certification and instruct 8th grade reading at a high needs middle school. She later returned to her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA to raise her daughter Caitlynn, now 4-years-old. During her 10-month-stint as a stay-at-home mom, Caitlynn inspired her to create this blog, and Diary of a First Time Mom was born on Mother’s Day 2012. Two years later, she expanded the family to include 20+ writers. Currently, Heather serves as the communications director at Allies for Children. In addition, she is the owner of Motor Mouth Multimedia, which ranked #49 in Startup Nation’s Home-Based 100 Competition sponsored by Discover Card and Sam’s Club. Recently, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments selected Heather to receive an Emerging Black Artist award to develop Diary of a First Time Mom.

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