Fun at the beach by macinate, on Flickr

A new study shows troubling data about teens’ sunscreen habits. While more than half reported having suffered a sunburn, only a quarter were using sunscreen regularly at age 14.
The study, published in Pediatrics, tracked 360 U.S. kids’ sunscreen and tanning behaviors for three years. The participants were first surveyed in 2004 as fifth graders, and they were surveyed again in 2007 as eighth graders.
Researchers found the following about kids’ sunburn and tanning experiences:

  • More than half (53 percent) had suffered at least one sunburn by the age of 11.
  • Half used sunscreen at the beginning of the study, but only 25 percent still did three years later.
  • The proportion of kids who admitted to “liking a tan and spending time outside to get a tan significantly increased” as they got older.
  • Two out of 10 went outside just to tan when they were in fifth grade; 4 out of 10 did by eighth grade.

According to the authors, the years of “periadolescence” (ages 11 to 14) seem to be “a crucial period” when kids and teens “increase or decrease their use of sun protection, obtain sunburns, or change their tan-promoting attitudes.”
“I think especially at this age, and in general, there are a lot of forces that promote tanning,” said lead researcher Dr. Stephen Dusza, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Dr. Sophie Balk, a pediatrician, said the study highlights that many kids aren’t protecting their skin.
“The problem is if you sunburn in childhood, you raise your risk of developing skin cancer later on,” said Balk.
According to Dusza, the next step is to figure out how to effectively promote sun protection in pediatric offices and community settings, like beaches and sporting events.
In addition to wearing sunscreen, Balk recommends protecting your skin with sun-protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.