Among the 1 million new cases of skin cancer reported in 2008, about 2,000 of them were women age 15 to 29 years old. But despite these scary stats, teen girls are still frequenting indoor tanning facilities more than ever, according to researchers at the American Cancer Society. Even more worrisome? The rates of teen tanning remain high regardless of policies restricting indoor tanning by minors and despite 58 percent of teens surveyed actually reported burns from indoor tanning.
Too much tanning among teens
To get the scoop on this alarming issue, SheKnows.com caught up with Dr Craig Austin, an assistant clinical professor at Mt. Sinai Medical Center and a New York City board certified dermatologist. And here’s what he had to say about too much tanning among teens.
Dangers of teens tanning
Sheknows.com (SK): Have you seen an increase of skin cancer among your younger patients?
Dr. Craig Austin (CA): Yes, there has been an increase of melanoma in children. It’s very rare before puberty, but recently, we’ve seen the numbers increase before puberty.
SK: What do you think is contributing to this spike?
CA: I think this has to do with increased sun exposure. The sun can be just as harmful to kids as it is to adults, especially if there is a family history of cancer. Plus, more and more teens are using tanning booths, which contributes to potential cases of cancer or other skin abnormalities.
SK: Why do you think so many teen girls are drawn to the tanning booth?
CA: There’s a pressure to look tan. People think that they’ll look better when they’re tan, or they feel threatened to fit in. A lot of girls get procedures at an early age, like breast enhancement or nose jobs, and tanning usually comes along with the territory. Plus, it’s an easy thing for them to do.
SK: Exactly how dangerous are tanning booths?
CA: They can be very harmful. So many young girls think it’s safe to go tanning, but what they don’t realize is that the intensity of the bulbs in the booth can range from salon to salon. You really never know what you’re getting into. And just a couple of minutes in a tanning bed can lead to a very bad burn.
SK: What about those who don’t burn? Are they at risk as well?
CA: Yes. Tanning is a mechanism for damaged skin. You may not see the damage off the bat, but it’s there. You’re going to age quicker, be more susceptible to skin cancer, and get wrinkles sooner.
SK: But how can we impress that message upon younger girls who are only worried about looking good now?
CA: They may like the way they look tan, but will they like having wrinkles in their 20’s? Because if they’re fair-skinned, they may start to see the damage at that age. They may also get freckles, changed moles, broken blood vessels, uneven pigment, larger pores, and thinner skin. All of these skin issues are directly attributed to sun damage and start showing up earlier than you’ll ever imagine.
SK: What about “sunless” spray tans and lotions? Are they a healthier alternative to tanning beds?
CA: Absolutely. They’re not absorbed at all into your skin, but rather change the color of dead cells on the surface, so it’s completely safe. But I’d advise against overdoing the spray tans, as there is a chance of inhaling the chemicals, which may be harmful in the long run. The best bet is to do it yourself with a cream. (For hints on applying self-tanner, check our top ten tips http://www.sheknows.com/articles/8003.htm).
SK: What’s the most important message you’d like to communicate to teens about tanning?
CA: Plain and simple, tanning will increase your risk for skin cancer. It can age you. While it’s important to look good, do it without the sun if you can. A little is fine – you have to live your life, and that may include some time in the sun – but limit your time outside and always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more, and a hat whenever you do.
Not sure which sunscreen products are safe enough for you and your kids? Check out Dr. Austin’s exclusive line of skincare products, including AB Baby, a chemical-free sunscreen with SPF 30 specially formulated for the sensitive skin of babies and children.