Adolescents more likely to ignore sun protection as they age
January 23rd, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Adolescents more likely to ignore sun protection as they age

Positive sun behaviors may decrease and tan-seeking behaviors increase as a child goes through adolescence, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers studied 360 fifth-graders in 2004 and followed up with them in 2007.  Approximate ages were 10 to 13.

"I'm sure the parents had more say in [children's] sun behaviors when they were ten years old- applying sunscreen and keeping them out of the sun more," said Dr. Stephen Dusza, lead author and research epidemiologist from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

"But as they are growing older and developing some more independence, they're making their own health decisions and sometimes those aren't the wisest health decisions," he said.

The American Academy of Dermatology says rates of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, have been rising for at least 30 years. It is now the most common form of cancer for young adults aged 25 to 29 and is the second most common form of cancer among adolescents and adults aged 15 to 29.

It attributes melanoma to ultraviolet radiation exposure in many cases.

The adolescents studied lived in Framingham, Massachusetts. They were mostly white but other populations included non-white Hispanic, Asian-American and African-American.

The students completed surveys as fifth-graders about their sun exposure and protection practices.  The questionnaires contained items with regard to their outdoor exposure, sunscreen use, past sunburns and attitude toward tans. The students completed the same surveys as eighth-graders.

Researchers found that at least half of the children experienced sunburns during the previous summer of each survey.  As 5th graders, 50% of the students reported using sunscreen regularly.  Only 25% reported the same regular use as eighth-graders.  The study noted, fair or very fair skinned individuals and those who did tan, were more likely to report a sunburn. 

In addition, the number of respondents who acknowledged they liked tans increased. Girls and boys both said they did, and reported they spent more time in the sun in order to get a tan.

"Females were four times more likely to report spending time in the sun at the older age group as compared to when they were younger," Dusza said.

"This age really is an inflection point for their health behaviors," he said. "A lot of research has shown that health behaviors in the peri-adolescence and adolescence age range are the formation for their health behaviors later in life, so this is a very important time to get these positive messages to children."

"We have to think about how we teach sun avoidance," Dusza noted. "A lot of the message that's out there is focused primarily on sunscreen, but such things as the amount of time spent in the sun and shade-seeking behaviors should also be part of the message."

Dr. Ann Haas agrees. She's a dermatologist and the former chair of the American Academy of Dermatology's Youth Education Committee.

"It's not just wear sunscreen," Haas said. "It's the whole package."

She recommends being aware that sometimes you might be out in the sun longer than you anticipate and seeking shade when possible.

"Even though you're 10, 11 or 12, that doesn't mean that you can't have problems because of having too much sun exposure," Haas noted.

She added that the study shows is that it looks like there is a window of time that the message is not being clearly received.

That message?

"It's important to protect your skin from the sun - that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy the sun but that means that you have to be smart about your activities when you're out in the sun," she said.

soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. Portland tony

    The picture that accompanied the article tells part of the story. Young adolescents don't usually lie out in the sun. Most of the time they are moving and playing possibly in an out of shaded areas. More than likely they will be dressed for play etc. And if it's a day at the beach, parents would make sure the younger ones are using sunscreen.

    January 23, 2012 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Christine

      Yes, they do. I live in a warm part of the US. If you go to the neighborhood pool in summer you will see lots of teenagers (and adults too) just laying in the sun, turning over once in a while and getting wet just to cool down before tanning some more.

      January 23, 2012 at 23:05 | Report abuse |
  2. Binky42

    Sit your teen down, and tell her gently that despite what you see on TV people with orange skin really do look hideous.

    January 23, 2012 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cherries

      Yes, and that looking like an umpa-loompa only looks cool if you are employed at Willy Wonka's.

      January 23, 2012 at 12:21 | Report abuse |
  3. t3chsupport

    That message will continue to be overlooked as long as we keep telling girls that the only way they can be attractive is to look like an oompa loompa or a leather couch.

    January 23, 2012 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andrea M

      Yet strangely you never see fashion models or anyone else like that tanning. They are all either super pale or stick with their natural skin color if they are of a race other than white. High fashion is anti-tan since being tan is so incredibly common now. The tanning craze these days is purely an artifact of hollywood culture, those more interested in fashion and beauty choose to stay pale.

      January 23, 2012 at 13:31 | Report abuse |
  4. Carly Thurman

    It's true! I remember when I was in high school, it was crucial to have a year-round tan. That even resorted to going to the tanning bed sometimes before big events. Looking back, I wish I had been more careful and realize now a tan isn't everything! I was always the child who got red as a lobster, regardless of how much sunscreen I used because of the medications I was using. Sun exposure education is very important and hopefully will help teens learn sun safety. Great post!

    January 23, 2012 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Rose

    Kids are vitamin D deficient and getting sick because of all the sun avoidance, all the media and sunscreen companys do is scare people to stay out of the sun so they can make billions off sunscreen,getting a tan is natural and what are skin is suppose to do! You should get your kids out it the sun and play,run and be active, too many kids are in the house doing nothing and that's what is gonna hurt them, wake up people and do your research on the positive effects of the sun!

    January 23, 2012 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Binky42

      Vitamin D deficiency is rare. Skin cancer is not.

      January 23, 2012 at 12:07 | Report abuse |
    • Primal

      No Binky, Vitamin D deficiency is not rare.

      January 23, 2012 at 15:35 | Report abuse |
    • @askanepi

      Whereas you are correct that kids are indoors more and not out playing in the sun, I wouldn't take it as far as some mass campaign by Banana Boat to make money. If you've ever lived in a state like Florida or California you'd know the importance of sun screen. Basal and Squamous Cell carcinoma are two reasons to apply sun screen, especially during prolonged exposure.

      January 23, 2012 at 16:02 | Report abuse |
    • BoddaGetta

      30 minutes per day, with at least SPF 30 sunscreen provides enough time for a child to get their daily dose of Vitamin D. After my mother painfully passed away from skin cancer, I'd much rather keep melanoma prevention my #1 priority when dealing with the sunlight, then making sure to get Vitamin D.

      January 23, 2012 at 16:41 | Report abuse |
    • EEE

      I would rather have been vitamin D deficient at 22 than diagnosed with melanoma. I think one is a bit worse than the other...

      January 24, 2012 at 11:34 | Report abuse |
  6. Andrea M

    When I was in primary school and thus more influenced by my parents, I always tried to get a tan because that's what my mom did and little girls will try to emulate their mothers. Once I was in high school, I realized more and more that my mom is mostly an ex-hippy/surfer of southern california origin so to her a tan is desirable no matter how bad it may actually look. I realized it looks terrible in reality and started coating myself in sunscreen all summer. To this day I carefully cultivate my paleness and my mom absolutely hates it! Course she's the one who looks like she's made of leather these days while I won't have to worry about it. Tans are for mindless Snooki-following losers.

    January 23, 2012 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Shannon A.

    Nice job of putting under-weight girls in that photograph as part of that article. Protruding ribs is definitely the image we want young women to see. While I appreciate the article, I won't be showing it to my tweeny as she is bombarded enough with images of stick-girls in magazines and in the media.

    January 23, 2012 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MacK

      As someone who's dealt with ED patients, these girls look healthy for their age. Physiologically, one's ribs do protrude when you lie flat. If you feel triggered by this, perhaps you should talk to a counselor who specializes in eating a/o body dismoprhic disorders.

      January 23, 2012 at 15:03 | Report abuse |
    • Carla Vazq

      They appear to be very healthy. You are probably overweight!

      January 24, 2012 at 03:30 | Report abuse |
  8. pepette

    As a child during the 1960's & 70's, I spent every summer in Florida at my grandmother's home – I always ended up with bad blistering sun burns after the first week yet kept on staying in the pool & on the beach because I was young and stupid. By age 30, my skin was like leather. At age 40, I was diagnosed with melanoma. Parents please chase after your kids with sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, etc. They may roll their eyes and not like it but you will be saving their lives.

    January 23, 2012 at 14:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Primal

      Telling others to stay out of the sun is pathetic. Just because you were foolish and let yourself burn doesn't mean you should spread the word to avoid the sun at all costs when we cannot live without exposure to sunlight.

      January 23, 2012 at 15:35 | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      Primal, I don't see where she recommends staying out of the sun. She only suggests being better protected from the sun. If your terror is vitamin D deficiency, learn that sunscreen will not prevent you from getting enough sun to build up vitamin D. It will however reduce the risk of skin cancer. And good sun glasses will reduce the risk of cataract.

      January 23, 2012 at 22:51 | Report abuse |
  9. TanMyHide

    Sunlight is an addiction, like everything else free and enjoyable in life. I say, soak it up kids!

    January 23, 2012 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Primal

    Tanned skin is healthy skin. We must have sunlight exposure to even live. Not getting any sun is a terrible thing to do. As long as you are not burning your skin, you are not harming it.

    January 23, 2012 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Rose

    when you put on spf15 it blocks 99% of you getting vitamin d from the sun! The sun screen cpmpanys are racking in billions of dollars from scaring people out of the sun. The sun is not our predator, big pharma is, everyone should get moderate sun exposture everyday. Do some research on the benefits of vitamin D. The sun is free so of course big pharma isn't gonna tell you to get moderate sun for health, if they could bottle it up and sell it, it would be the best thing for you but you would pay a hefty price! sunscare is a scam. Sun moderately isn't bad for you, people just don't know any moderation.

    January 23, 2012 at 17:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Christine

      I put on spf 50 whenever I go in the sun. And also a hat and sunglasses. And some clothes. And I was never tested deficient in vitamin D.

      January 23, 2012 at 22:53 | Report abuse |
  12. helensadornmentsblog

    My child is the whitest white child I know. I keep after her but I know when she's out of earshot she doesn't use sunscreen. I'm going to read her this article.

    January 23, 2012 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Carla Vazq

      "I'm gong to read her this article". Duh! She can probably read better than you can write, so how about letting her read it to you.

      January 24, 2012 at 03:28 | Report abuse |
  13. c s

    Human beings have been exposed to sunlight for thousands of years. Maybe a severe sunburn might cause skin cancer. Unfortunately dermatologist insist that skin cancer must be caused by sun exposure. Does anyone find it strange that the vast majority of skin cancers occur 30 or 40 years after exposure? Does it really take that long for skin cancer to develop? The majority of people suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency and just maybe this is the underlying cause of skin cancer and that sun exposure is a not causing skin caner.

    So teach your kids to avoid getting sunburned and let them get some sunshine. Else make sure that the get Vitamin D supplements.

    January 23, 2012 at 20:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Christine

      If I understand your logic:
      a. Sun exposure correlates with higher risk of skin cancer.
      b. Sun exposure induces vitamin D production.
      So you conclude that lack of vitamin D causes skin cancer. Hmmmm... no, even if I try I don't understand your logic.

      As for the timing between sun exposure and cancer... usually people with skin cancer didn't get one or two sunburns, they get several yearly for many years. Damaging cells leads to errors in DNA replication. Many can be repaired because the cells have check points in place. But if you add them up the repair system gets overwhelmed and lets some mistakes go by. A single error may not lead to cancer but, over time, you add up all of those errors in the DNA of the new skin cells (skin constantly regenerates). And then one day you have the right number or combinations of errors and you have cancer. The earlier you start damaging the cells, the higher your risk of cancer.
      But this is biology. Nothing is ever black or white in biology, everything is shades of grey. So for the same sun exposure, some will develop cancer and some will not. Many factors come into play. But why risk it?

      January 23, 2012 at 23:02 | Report abuse |
  14. Rose

    Funny how they say skin cancer is on the rise but everyone has been putting on spf 30-50 for the past 15 years, so why would't it be decreasing? A tan is how your skin protects it self from sun burn, I'm not saying never wear it but they just go to extremes to make billions of dollars. Big pharma and the F.D.A are in on this together, and if you think they'll ever find a cure for cancer they won't,there is too much money being made from it, the money is in treatment not the cure. If you dig and do research you will see how corrupt the health system is in this country.

    January 24, 2012 at 11:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. tyrexden

    Why is it believed that a melanoma is deadly, rather than whatever is happening within the body is deadly? Melanoma is just an end-result... its not a cause.... To say melanoma is deadly is like saying the cart is pulling the horse. Someone with damaged lymph nodes may get melanoma as a end result, not the other way around. Doctors are bass-ackwards.

    January 24, 2012 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Skin cancer x ray

    Skin cancer, the actual silent fantastic. This required my personal grandmother. My own cousin had been one of many projected ten,710 people throughout '06 who passed away due to skin cancer.skin cancer

    January 26, 2012 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Kathryn (Kathy) (Bogala) Calgary Alberta

    It is vital to protect yourself from the sun at every age! Skin cancer is a horrific and deadly disease!

    February 2, 2012 at 15:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TheBlameGame

      Wow, Kathy, you certainly consider yourself an expert on cancer. On an online article about what to eat to prevent cancer, you stated that healthy eating is definitely the key. While skin cancer is a cancer that is preventable in some instances, I have a family friend who avoided the sun her whole life and wore sunscreen and still ended up with very serious cancer on her face that could have killed her. I have also worn sunscreen my whole life, eaten well, etc. and still ended up with late stage cancer. All cancer is horrific and many cancers are deadly, and it's not quite as simple as you believe. Why don't you drop by the Tom Baker Day Care Unit and ask some of the patients. I think it might be very enlightening, educational and worrisome for you.

      April 10, 2012 at 16:38 | Report abuse |
  18. brett

    Could not agree more with this article. I am shocked that here in Colorado where skin cancer is huge problem, children are not being taught to wear hats, sun screen, long sleeve shirts etc. In fact, we have started a program that donates hats to youth groups. Through our RMO Hats for Kids Project, each year we seek requests from schools, sports leagues, youth groups who have a need for sunhats.

    February 22, 2012 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Gina Cannova Phalen

    This is a great article targeting an important behaviorial change we need to see in many parents. As a mom of young children, a skin cancer survivor and the owner of a sun protective clothing on-line company, http://www.SunSationalStyle.com, I see the sales of sun protective swimwear for young children far outsell sun protective swimsuits and sun hats and clothes for teens and adults. Maybe if adults also practiced consistant sun safe habits for themselves, young adults would not think of sun protective clothes and hats as "just for children". I do think people are getting wiser and I hope this growing trend of sun safe habits continues to flourish with great media exposure like this article.

    April 23, 2012 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
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