Teenagers and young adults have always been a special concern of mine. In my experience, they often feel fiercely independent and even invulnerable, yet they are less likely to heed messages about health and safety. For example, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50 percent of people aged 18-29 reported suffering a sunburn in the preceding year. This is important because the skin damage caused by sunburn doesn’t end when the redness, blistering, and stinging go away. There are long-term consequences: just one blistering sunburn in youth or five or more burns over the course of a lifetime doubles your risk of developing melanoma later in life.
A simultaneous CDC report shows that indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning, which has been linked to all major forms of skin cancer, remains as popular as ever with this age group. Young people, especially young women, are the biggest users of UV tanning devices. Approximately 30 percent of white women aged 18-25 tanned indoors at least once in 2010, the majority of them more than 10 times. As sunbed use increases, so do the odds of developing skin cancer.
Tanning salon personnel certainly do not try to discourage them. In fact, a recent Congressional investigation found that they intentionally use misleading tactics with young people, denying that tanning poses health risks and often instead falsely claiming that they offer health benefits. All these findings contribute to the rising melanoma rate in young people; it is now six times higher than it was 40 years ago.
As summer approaches, we hope that you will please stay out of tanning salons, and when you are outdoors, use sun protection. Do not burn. If you want to hit the beach or pool, do it before 10 AM and after 4 PM, when the sun is less intense. Seek the shade whenever possible, wear sun-safe clothing, including UV-blocking sunglasses and a wide- brimmed hat, and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for extended stays outdoors. Reapply every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily. If you follow these few simple guidelines, you can have a wonderful, carefree summer without sacrificing your health.