Talking to teens

June 1, 2007

Tailoring messages about the risks of sun exposure will effectively educate teens about the dangers of outdoor and indoor tanning and encourage them to practice sun-safe behavior, according to pediatric dermatologists.

Key Points

National report - Clinicians say that conveying messages about basic science, as well as discussing the wide-ranging adverse effects of sun exposure and exposure to indoor ultraviolet (UV) radiation, are likely to modify the behavior of young people to avoid future sun worship.

"I emphasize to them that DNA is the software of life in that it directs cellular activity and function," he tells Dermatology Times.

"When this argument is explained at a cellular level - that injury to the cells' software (DNA) can result in cancer many years later - most of the young people listen and ask intelligent and relevant questions," says Dr. Beckett, who has been involved in community education with young people in the junior lifeguard program for more than 20 years.

A long-time surfer and father of three children who have all been lifeguards, Dr. Beckett gives frequent talks to California youths on the dangers of extended sun exposure, lecturing to about 2,500 children per year.

He has also produced a video for local school and community use on sun-safe behavior, and advises viewers to take protective steps to prevent sun damage, such as wearing hats, sunglasses and Lycra shirts; regularly applying sunscreen; sitting under umbrellas on the beach; and, if possible, avoiding sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"I think the fact that I surf is a reason the youngsters do listen," Dr. Beckett says. "They see me out on the water, and I'm wearing a full-length wetsuit and hat to protect myself from the sun."

AAD reaches out

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has also recognized that young people are an audience that must be reached in terms of communicating the dangers of sun exposure and indoor tanning.

The AAD developed a series of public service announcements (PSAs) aimed at adolescent girls ages 12 to 14 to warn them of the effects of sun exposure and indoor UV radiation exposure.

The campaign is part of the AAD's long-term initiative to reduce the incidence of skin cancer in the United States. The academy notes that data show females are starting to tan as young as at age 12.

"We have data linking tanning salon use to the development of malignant melanoma, as well as data showing tanning behavior is addictive," says Arielle Kauvar, M.D., clinical associate professor of dermatology, New York University School of Medicine in New York and chairman of the council of communication for the AAD.

"We also know that young girls are starting to tan at a younger age and are increasingly frequenting indoor tanning salons," Dr. Kauvar says. "These reports, taken together with the increased risk of malignant melanoma in individuals who begin in-door tanning at a young age, gave rise to the idea that we should target individuals before they start this activity."