Fear of Skin Damage, Not Cancer, Gets Women to Use Sunblock

Educating young women about the perils of sun exposure can protect them from skin cancer

How can we get teen-aged girls and women to understand the dangerous of too much sun exposure? Showing them the actual damage tanning does to the skin helps. A study in this month’s Archives of Dermatology found that showing women a special photograph that reveals what UV exposure is doing to their skin was the most effective way to get them to start using sunscreen and cover up when in the blazing sun.

I wish I’d had such a picture taken when I was about 15. It would have saved me quite a bit of pain and many bottles of Aloe Vera gel. I’m a Northern European mutt, and my ancestors were much more accustomed to covering up their skin to protect it from cold than exposing it in pursuit of the perfect tan. But did that stop my teen-aged self from lying on a beach lathered in Ban de Soleil’s laughable SPF 4? No. I’m covered with moles (which I prefer to call beauty marks) and now, at the ripe old age of 37, I want to go back and slap my 15-year-old self in the back of the head. Will my ignorance then lead to dire consequences later? I can only slather on the SPF 30 now and hope for the best.

Another study in the same journal shows that 10 percent of adolescent girls are using self-tanners, which is good news because it’s safer than getting a real tan. But not enough of those girls are also applying a daily sunscreen. They think because they look tan, they can’t burn, which is completely untrue.

As parents, we need to teach our kids that their skin is delicate and skin cancer is a real threat. My kids, thanks to their West Indian father, have a natural perma-tan. But that doesn’t stop me from slathering sunblock on them daily during the summertime. Because everyone, no matter what your skin tone, is at risk. Even my tall, dark and handsome husband has suffered sunburn, and burns put you at increased cancer risk. After all, do you know what Bob Marley died from? Skin cancer.

Recently I tried to apply sunscreen to my own back. I was in a hurry and missed a huge swath of skin. The result was a zigzag-shaped line of red skin across my back. This, along with the peeling, startled my kids. They now ask me if I have sunblock on before we go out. “Because you don’t want to get a burn, mommy,” they say. And they’re right. But even more than that, I need to practice what I preach.

What made you start using sunblock? Chime in below!

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