A survey of preteens and adolescents found that they are still seeking tans -- and not using sunscreen. That puts them at greater risk for skin cancer.
Only one-third of the more than 10,000 youngsters surveyed said they routinely used sunscreen. Most reported having at least one sunburn during the previous summer -- and half had multiple sunburns. The study appears in the June issue of
Research has shown that severe sunburns in childhood can significantly increase the risk later in life of developing melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. More than one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year.
"Fortunately, that damage to the DNA in the skin can take decades before it goes on to lead to skin cancers," said Dr. Robert Clark, a Cary dermatologist.
Clark treats adults with skin cancer. He said that many of his patients who baked in the sun when they were younger now regret doing so.
"[They are] actually lamenting the fact that they weren't more careful when they were younger," he said.
Clark said it is up to parents to teach their kids about the importance of protecting their skin as early as possible.
"It's really going to fall on the parents to take on the role of prevention so it doesn't become a burden to them, [so] it's something that they're used to and they do commonly," Clark said.
For teens who want a tan without the risk of skin cancer, Clark has a safer suggestion.
"If you want a nice tan, there're some wonderful options that come in a bottle," he said.
Doctors estimate that using sunscreen as a child and into adulthood can cut the risk of many skin cancers by 78 percent.
Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.Sunscreen should not be used on infants under 6 months old.