I saw a 9 year old child recently for a checkup who had sunkissed cheeks and nose. She’s a soccer player and I asked about sunscreen use. She said she uses sunscreen regularly but had a tournament over the weekend and hadn’t reapplied it.
Even though everyone knows the risks of sunburn both in the short term and long term, most parents today grew up in an age where suntanning was desirable. I have to wonder if that creates a less vigilant attitude for parents who may apply sunscreen in the morning but not remember to reapply it as the day goes on.
I also wonder if parents remain attached to the notion that people look healthier and more attractive with “some color” as we call it, and as such on some level want our children to get a little sun.
Sun exposure isn’t all bad, of course. It’s a good way to get Vitamin D and is just feels great to have the warmth on your skin. Too much sun exposure, though, is risky, and yet young adults are routinely ignoring the risks and half have reported getting sunburned in the previous year. In addition, young adults frequent tanning booths, which also increases risk of skin cancers.
One blistering sunburn doubles melanoma risk and minor burns increase the risk of melanoma, basal cell, and squamous cell skin cancers. With 1/3 of white women between the ages of 18 and 21 having used a tanning booth at least once in the last year and many more sunbathing without adequate sunscreen to get a tan, skin cancers are going to be on the rise in the years to come.
Parents have an opportunity when children are young to teach the importance of sun protection through their vigilance. Applying sunscreen frequently, wearing sun protective clothing, and modeling good “sun health” behaviors themselves can go a long way to ingraining the habits.
Young adults often feel a sense of grandiose safety about lots of risky behaviors. They are more than able to list the risks but also feel a strong sense that it just won’t happen to them. It is this sort of disconnect that leads to lots of risk taking whether that be with drugs (“I won’t get addicted, I can try this drug”), to driving (“I won’t get in an accident even if I text”), to sex (“I won’t get an STD, my partner seems so clean”), to sun seeking behaviors (“I won’t get cancer so I don’t need to worry so much about sunscreen”).
We may never be able to change this sort of mind-set in our young adults, but if parents are lazy about sun safety themselves, it will be a lot easier to believe it’s just not that important.
Guidelines for sunscreen: apply it liberally and often (every couple of hours at the longest) to be safe from sunburn.