Physician Expert Available for Melanoma Monday on May 6

Dermatologist at Packard Children’s Provides Tips to Help Avoid the Deadliest Form of Skin Cancer

For Release: April 30, 2013

Palo Alto, Calif. - Do you know what’s happening Monday, May 6? Well, if you don’t, dermatologist Latanya Benjamin, MD, at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford will be happy to tell you all about Melanoma Monday, a nationwide skin cancer awareness day led by the American Academy of Dermatology

With the warm summer months fast approaching, it’s time for parents to recommit to healthy skin care for kid and parent alike, as even one blistering sunburn can not only leave children red and peeling, but also increase two-fold their lifetime risk of deadly melanoma. Benjamin, co-chair of the “Time Out, Protect Your Skin” initiative, has a few tips, “mythbusters,” and suggestions for those looking to soak in the sun safely – at any time of the year. 

You’ve mentioned that you’re seeing an increase in melanoma – which is the deadliest form of skin cancer – among teens. Can you explain this trend? 

Benjamin: I believe that the rise in melanoma rates – especially among young women – has to do with the increased use of tanning beds. When an individual lies in a tanning bed, they will receive nine times more concentrated UVA rays than if spending that time in the sun. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin, hitting the DNA of the cells and causing mutations at the cellular level. These mutations can lead to skin cancer later. 

As dermatologists, we are pushing nationally against the use of tanning beds by visiting local schools, as well as speaking to fellow pediatricians, our patients, and the general population about the dangers of these machines. 

As we head into the summer, are there particular sports that parents should be particularly wary of, due to increased sun exposure? 

Benjamin: Regardless of the sport, the peak sun hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and that’s when kids will be the most exposed to the sun. Even if they apply sunscreen, they are sweating it off. I would recommend that parents teach their kids to reapply sunscreen every two hours – even on cloudy days – and to reapply sunscreen after swimming or perspiring. The same tips go for snow sports. Sun protection is just as important during the winter, as snow and water reflect UVA and UVB rays as well. 

Many individuals with darker skin believe that they have “built-in” sunscreen. Is that true, or just a myth? 

Benjamin: Those with more melanin – or pigment – in their skin have a little more protection, as the melanin forms a little protective cap over the DNA. But all skin types are susceptible to melanoma. In fact, even Bob Marley died of melanoma on his foot; the cancer metastasized throughout his body.

Those with fair skin and light-colored eyes are more at risk because they will burn faster than others. However, all skin colors need to be protected from the dangers of the sun. 

Does a sunscreen with a higher SPF – like SPF 75 – actually work more effectively? 

Benjamin: No. Once a sunscreen has an SPF of 50, it provides more than 90 percent of the maximum sun protection that you are going to get; the “SPF 75” label is misleading. In fact, the FDA has decided that "SPF 50+" will now be the highest rating allowed on a product. You don’t have to go beyond SPF 50 to get protection from a good sunscreen. 

Furthermore, the word SPF designates a time frame; it’s based on the amount of time it would take you to start getting pink after sun exposure. For example, if I put on SPF 5, then it will take me five times longer to get red than if I were not wearing sunscreen. However, the most important way of getting protection from UVA and UVB rays is the reapplication of sunscreen. Reapplying sunscreen at least every two hours is optimal.  

When it comes to purchasing sunscreens for kids, what should parents look out for? 

Benjamin: Use mineral-based sunscreens which are safe and effective, and even great for children with sensitive skin. Look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients. 

Also, parents should be sure to dress their children in protective clothing, including sunglasses that have 99 to 100 percent UVA and UVB protection, and hats. Long sleeves and light-weight pants are great options, preferably of tightly woven fabric. Sun lovers or those with a genetic risk for melanoma can also purchase laundry aids that wash UV protection right into their clothing.


Winter Johnson 
(650) 498-7056

About Stanford Medicine Children's Health

Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, with Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford at its center, is the Bay Area’s largest health care system exclusively dedicated to children and expectant mothers. Our network of care includes more than 65 locations across Northern California and more than 85 locations in the U.S. Western region. Along with Stanford Health Care and the Stanford School of Medicine, we are part of Stanford Medicine, an ecosystem harnessing the potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education, and clinical care to improve health outcomes around the world. We are a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the community through meaningful outreach programs and services and providing necessary medical care to families, regardless of their ability to pay. Discover more at