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Teens’ Tans May Lead to Trouble Later

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

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.

"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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