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  SunSafe News

U.S. Teens Risking Skin Cancer for Tan -Study
Mon Jun 3, 7:10 AM ET

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Despite publicized warnings about the risks of skin cancer from too much sun exposure, most U.S. teen-agers do not use sun block and will endure sunburns to obtain a desired tan, researchers said on Monday.

Boston University researchers surveyed more than 10,000 children of nurses across the United States participating in the Nurse's Health Study, which began in the late 1980s.

Only 34 percent of the teen-agers, aged 12 to 18, reported using sunscreen routinely, and 83 percent had suffered at least one sunburn and 36 percent had endured three or more sunburns over the previous summer.

Fourteen percent of the girls surveyed used a tanning bed, rising to 35 percent among 17-year-olds. Darker-complexioned children were more likely to use the beds to maintain a tan.

"Our study demonstrates that attitudes associated with tanning, such as the preference for tanned skin, having many friends who were tanned, and belief in the worth of burning to get a tan were generally associated with sporadic sunscreen use, more frequent sunburns, and increased use of tanning beds," study author Alan Geller wrote in the journal Pediatrics.

"It is possible that facial or body creams, more frequently used by girls, lull girls into a false sense of protection," he wrote, adding the results may have underestimated the overall rate of youth tanning because the children of health care providers presumably would be more aware of the sun's dangers.

There is broad agreement that sun exposure and sunburns early in life damages the skin and increases the incidence of skin cancer later in life. Sun block can at least deter sunburns, though there is debate about whether users spend more time in the sun as a result and damage subsurface skin layers.

The difficult task of changing attitudes about suntanning and the use of tanning beds may need the same type of programs aimed at adolescents who smoke, the report said. In addition, including information about the sun's intensity in daily weather reports might help raise awareness.

Educational programs in sun-drenched Australia where 1,000 die each year from melanoma skin tumors -- which cause 80 percent of skin cancer deaths -- have managed to change attitudes and enhance sun protection measures.

Earlier surveys have shown strongly held perceptions among American teen-agers about the benefits of a tan, including how it can "help one look younger, healthier, sexier and thinner," the report said. Relatively few teen-agers were found to be aware that sunburns increased their risk of skin cancer.