Although melanoma is one of the two most common cancers afflicting young Americans, with sunburn at an early age almost doubling the risk for developing the disease in adulthood, the lure of tanning seems to outweigh tweens’ desire to protect themselves.
A study in the February 2012 issue of Pediatrics, “Prospective Study of Sunburn and Sun Behavior Patterns during Adolescence”, surveyed 360 children in Massachusetts in 2004, when they were 10, and again in 2007, when they were 13, to determine their attitudes about tanning, sun protection and incidence of sunburn. By the time they were teenagers, only 25 percent of the study participants were using sunscreen routinely.
“Sunscreen use dropped by 70 percent,” said Dr. Stephen W. Dusza, lead author of the study. “We’re not sure why.” He suggested that behavioral issues, like children wanting to enhance their tans, contributed to decreased sunscreen use.
Consumers Reports recommends that older children protect themselves against sunburn by wearing tightly woven hats and clothing, as well as applying sunscreen to any exposed skin. With older children and teenagers who may not be under direct adult supervision, it’s important to pack extra tee shirts for beach excursions, as wet tee shirts won’t be as protective against UV exposure. Teenagers should also be reminded about the risks associated with using tanning salons.
In general, people should avoid exposure during peak mid-day hours when there is maximum UV radiation, usually between 10 AM and 4 PM. Using your zip code, check the local UV index, to make a decision about spending time in the sun. The index indicates the strength of solar UV radiation on a scale from 1 (low) to 11+ (extremely high).
“The public health message is that limiting sun exposure is important,” said Dusza, especially “at a time when kids are flexing their independence. This is laying a foundation for what you do as an adult. Lots of studies have shown that early life exposure to intense sun is highly associated with developing melanoma later on. This is a bad time to get a lot of sun exposure. It’s an important time to practice prevention.”
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