Teens' Tans May Lead to Trouble Later

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Teenagers who soak up the summer sun may get that bronze glow they're after, but they may get something else along with it: an increased risk of skin cancer later in life.

"As we all know, having a tan has become very fashionable," says Neil Prose, M.D., a dermatologist at Duke University Medical Center. "But we're learning more and more about the health dangers of sun exposure. Your lifetime risk of developing skin cancer -- either sun-related skin cancers or other, more serious, skin cancer called melanoma -- is very much related to your youthful exposure to the sun. In fact, the risk of melanoma skin cancer depends on how many sunburns you had during childhood and adolescence."

Prose, who is director of pediatric dermatology at Duke, says that both sunburn and suntan can be hazardous to youthful skin.

"We think that both cause different kinds of damage," he explains. "Sunburn appears to be particularly related to melanoma skin cancer, which can be a fatal illness, whereas most dermatologists think that tanning is related to other forms of cancer, such as basal cell or squamous cell skin cancers, which are not quite as serious."

Prose cautions teens to avoid using tanning booths and sunlamps, which can be every bit as dangerous as getting too much sun.

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"Dermatologists are very opposed to the entire tanning booth industry," Prose says. "We feel that these machines actually give you much more sun and light exposure than you need and, just as the sun, can increase your risk of skin cancer."

In general, Prose recommends that children and teens avoid the sun during the middle of the day, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., wear a hat or cap and protective clothing, apply sunscreen, re-apply sunscreen after swimming and use a sunscreen formulation that has an SPF of 15 or higher.

Health officials have tried for years to reach teenagers with a sun-protection message, but their communications efforts have not been very successful. Prose expects this is due in part to the delayed effects of sun exposure. Young people typically don't worry about risks that may only appear much later in life.

Even if the threat of skin cancer seems remote to many teens, Prose says another kind of message may be more effective. "Teenagers should be aware that sun exposure increases the danger of photoaging, which is the wrinkling process. The type of wrinkles you see in your parents and grandparents is very much related to chronic sun exposure year after year. No teenager wants to look old."

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The source of this article is http://www.dukehealth.org

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