The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recently reported findings from a survey about sun protection and tanning practices that involved more than 1,000 U.S. adults. The survey revealed that many Gen Z adults—those aged 18 to 25 years—are not cognizant of the dangers of overexposure to the sun and are not protecting themselves from sun damage.
Ahead of the July 4th weekend, the AAD was dispelling common misconceptions about tanning and encouraging everyone to practice safe-sun measures to diminish their risk for skin cancer and premature aging of the skin. A board-certified dermatologist also shared her personal cancer diagnosis and sun-protection habits to persuade younger generations like Gen Z to practice safe sun measures.
According to the survey, many of the Gen Z respondents were not aware that tanning is detrimental to the skin. The survey revealed that 60% of participants got a tan in 2021, and 27% were under the false impression that having a base tan reduces the risk of developing skin cancer; another 38% indicated that tanning is safe as long as you do not burn.
Furthermore, the survey revealed that some Gen Z adults were unaware of the following basics about sun protection:
• 54% believe a sun protection factor (SPF) 30 offers twice as much protection as SPF 15.
• 49% did not know you can get sunburned on a cloudy day.
• 39% say high SPF can be applied less frequently.
• 37% did not know that the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can penetrate clothing.
• 30% did not realize that shade protects an individual from UV rays.
• 23% did not know sunscreen should be reapplied at least every 2 hours when outdoors.
The survey also revealed that 53% of the Gen Z survey respondents reported that they wish they did more to protect themselves from the sun when they were younger. The survey also showed that while 22% of the Gen Z respondents notice the signs of sun damage now, 28% did not know sun exposure would age their skin.
Board-certified dermatologist Brittany Craiglow MD, FAAD, associate professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine, stated, "When I was in medical school, I went to a dermatologist for a non-healing spot on my back. My dermatologist performed a biopsy, and I was diagnosed with basal cell skin cancer. Since then, I have had regular skin exams. When I became a dermatologist, I knew what to look for in terms of skin cancer. Subsequently, I've had multiple other basal cells and then a year ago, I was diagnosed with melanoma."
"It's frustrating that people still think a tan looks healthy and that a base tan is going to protect you," stated Dr. Craiglow. "Just because you're not burning doesn't mean your skin isn't getting damaged. All that UV damage is cumulative so what you're doing now will affect you in your future. As a dermatologist and a skin cancer survivor, I want to educate others so that they don't make the same mistakes that I did."
Dr. Craiglow added, "Not many people want wrinkles and age spots on their skin. But the 4-inch scar on my arm from my melanoma surgery is even scarier than these signs of premature aging. The only benefit of my scar is that it gives me 'street cred' with my patients. While it's easy to tune me out when I tell them that they could get skin cancer and wrinkles, you can see their eyes light up when I show my patients my scar and they realize that sun protection and skin cancer is not a joke."
The AAD and Dr. Craiglow recommended the following tips to protect the skin from sun damage and to decrease risk of skin cancer:
• Seek shade when applicable, remembering that the sun's rays are the strongest between 10 AM and 2 PM. You can also look at your shadow. Any time your shadow appears shorter than you, seek shade.
• Wear sun-protective clothing such as a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection when possible. For more effective protection, select clothing with a UV protection factor number on the label.
• Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Remember to reapply every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating.
Dr. Craiglow also noted, "If you are in Generation Z and are not protecting yourself from the sun, it's essential that you start now if you want to reduce premature skin aging and your risk of skin cancer. There are a variety of different ways to protect yourself from the sun and you should choose what works best for you. My diagnosis changed my sun protection habits. Before, there were days I'd skip the sunscreen. Now, I always wear sunscreen, and I even carry some in my purse so I can reapply as needed. If I go running, I wear a long-sleeve shirt. My swimwear is also long-sleeved. I have sun protective clothing to block UV rays, and I always have a hat on when I'm outside."
In addition to protecting oneself from the sun, Dr. Craiglow stressed that if one notices a spot that is different from others, or that changes, itches, or bleeds, it is important to seek further evaluation from a dermatologist. To learn more about skin cancer prevention and detection, visit PracticeSafeSun.org.
The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.
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