We've all cooed at babies at the beach. What's not to love about the floppy hat, the shaded stroller and the miniature sunglasses? There's a good reason for the beach costume. Babies are more susceptible to sun damage than are adults. The reason has to do with the skin's ability to protect itself.
Most people, regardless of age, produce a pigment called melanin that protects our skin against DNA damage from ultraviolet rays. Babies make less melanin than adults do, so their skin cells can be damaged after less time in the sun. When the damage is done, babies and adults react in the same way -- with a sunburn and its accompanying redness, swelling and pain.
Babies should avoid sunburns even more than adults. For several cancers, such as melanoma, the major risk factor is whether ultraviolet rays damage a person's skin cells in infancy or childhood. A poorly protected baby could be at high risk for melanoma by school age [source: Berneburg].
Next, we'll look at what else besides UV rays can penetrate a baby's skin.