Teaching Your Teens the Benefits of Staying Out of the Sun

According to the study "Use of Sunscreen, Sunburning Rates and Tanning Bed Use among More Than 10,000 Children and Adolescents", young adults these days are ignoring warnings regarding the harmful effects of the sun and recommendations for better sun protection. More and more young adults are also ignoring warnings to avoid tanning beds and sunburns.

The researchers handed out questionnaires to children aged 12-18 in all 50 states. Of the participants, only 1/3 reported routine use of sunscreen during the previous summer. About 10 percent of the respondents also admitted to using tanning beds during the previous year. Most of the children also reported being sunburned at least once, and about half claimed that it was worth getting burned to get a tan later on.

The researchers concluded that a nationwide effort should be put in place to prevent skin cancer in a new generation of children and adolescents.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns high school and college students that prolonged exposure to the sun can cause signs of premature aging – including wrinkles, skin discoloration and even sagging cheeks. The AAP also warns that prolonged exposure to the sun is a key factor in the development of skin cancer. Most of non-melanoma skin cancers are caused by unprotected exposure to the sun – specifically to ultraviolet "UV-A and UV-B" rays – during childhood and adolescence. Research has also shown that salon tanning beds’ light bulbs also emit ultraviolet rays. Sophie J. Balk, MD, FAAP, chair of the AAP Committee on Environmental Health says, "There is really no such thing as a safe tan – all tans cause skin damage."

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, killed about 7,800 people last year in the United States alone. That number is expected to rise this year. People who suffer deep and intense sunburns during childhood and adolescence are more prone to develop melanoma.

However, there are still a number of things that high school and college kids can do to prevent damaging their skin any further, and increase their risk of developing skin cancer.

First and foremost, cover up. More than any sunscreen, clothes, hats and sunglasses are your best line of defense against the sun’s UV rays. Opt for cotton clothing with a tight weave. Choose sunglasses that block out 99-100% of UV rays. Wear a hat that has a three-inch brim or a bill facing forward.

Stay in the shade whenever possible. Avoid being exposed to the sun between 10 a.m. And 4 p.m. as these are the sun’s peak intensity hours. The risk of burning and tanning also increases with altitude.

Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15. Make sure that you apply enough – about one ounce per sitting for a young adult. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating. When using self-tanning products, choose products that contain sunscreen. Read labels carefully.

Lastly, avoid using tanning oils or baby oil. They make the skin soft and shiny but they do not provide protection from the sun.