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Board-certified dermatologist shares personal cancer diagnosis and sun protection habits to encourage younger generations like Gen Z to practice safe sun
ROSEMONT, Ill. (June 28, 2022) — A recent American Academy of Dermatology survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults revealed that many Generation Z adults, ages 18-25, are not aware of the dangers of overexposure to the sun and are not protecting themselves from it. Ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, the AAD is setting the record straight about common misconceptions about tanning and encouraging everyone to practice safe sun to decrease their risk for skin cancer and premature aging skin.
According to the survey, many of the Gen Z respondents are not aware that tanning is harmful to the skin. The survey showed that 60% got a tan in 2021, and 27% were under the false impression that having a base tan decreases the risk of developing skin cancer. Another 38% say tanning is safe as long as you don’t burn.
Additionally, the survey showed that some Gen Z adults don’t know the following about sun protection:
54% believe an SPF 30 offers twice as much protection as SPF 15.
49% didn’t know you can get sunburned on a cloudy day.
39% say high SPF can be applied less frequently.
37% didn’t know that the sun’s UV rays can penetrate clothing.
30% didn’t know that shade protects a person from UV rays.
23% didn’t know sunscreen should be re-applied at least every two hours when outdoors.
Board-certified dermatologist Brittany Craiglow MD, FAAD, associate professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine, is familiar with these misconceptions firsthand. Dr. Craiglow didn’t think much about the multiple sunburns she had as a child until she was diagnosed with skin cancer in her mid-20’s.
"When I was in medical school, I went to a dermatologist for a non-healing spot on my back," said Dr. Craiglow. "My dermatologist performed a biopsy, and I was diagnosed with basal cell skin cancer. Since then, I have had regular skin exams. When I became a dermatologist, I knew what to look for in terms of skin cancer. Subsequently, I’ve had multiple other basal cells and then a year ago, I was diagnosed with melanoma."
Research shows it only takes one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence to nearly double a person’s risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, later in life. In addition, tanning from the sun, tanning beds, and sun lamps all have UV radiation, which increases your risk of skin cancer.
"It’s frustrating that people still think a tan looks healthy and that a base tan is going to protect you," said Dr. Craiglow. "Just because you’re not burning doesn’t mean your skin isn’t getting damaged. All that UV damage is cumulative so what you’re doing now will affect you in your future. As a dermatologist and a skin cancer survivor, I want to educate others so that they don’t make the same mistakes that I did."
In fact, 53% of the Gen Z survey respondents reported that they wish they did more to protect themselves from the sun when they were younger. The survey also revealed that while 22% of the Gen Z respondents see signs of sun damage now, 28% didn’t know sun exposure would age their skin.
Spending time outdoors without protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays can add years to your looks, as well as increase your risk of skin cancer. With time, this damage builds up and causes premature aging. You may see changes such as wrinkles, age spots, and loose skin.
"Not many people want wrinkles and age spots on their skin," said Dr. Craiglow. "But the four-inch scar on my arm from my melanoma surgery is even scarier than these signs of premature aging. The only benefit of my scar is that it gives me 'street cred' with my patients. While it’s easy to tune me out when I tell them that they could get skin cancer and wrinkles, you can see their eyes light up when I show my patients my scar and they realize that sun protection and skin cancer is not a joke."
To protect yourself from the sun and reduce your risk of skin cancer, the AAD and Dr. Craiglow recommend that everyone, including Generation Z:
Seek shade. Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You can also look at your shadow. Any time your shadow appears shorter than you, seek shade.
Wear sun-protective clothing. Wear a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible. For more effective protection, select clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on the label.
Apply sunscreen. Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
"If you are in Generation Z and are not protecting yourself from the sun, it’s essential that you start now if you want to reduce premature skin aging and your risk of skin cancer," said Dr. Craiglow. "There are a variety of different ways to protect yourself from the sun and you should choose what works best for you. My diagnosis changed my sun protection habits. Before, there were days I’d skip the sunscreen. Now, I always wear sunscreen, and I even carry some in my purse so I can reapply as needed. If I go running, I wear a long-sleeve shirt. My swimwear is also long-sleeved. I have sun protective clothing to block UV rays, and I always have a hat on when I’m outside."
In addition to protecting yourself from the sun, Dr. Craiglow emphasizes that if you notice a spot that is different from others, or that changes, itches, or bleeds, you should make an appointment to see a dermatologist. To learn more about skin cancer prevention and detection, visit PracticeSafeSun.org. To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/findaderm.
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About the AAD
Headquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 20,000 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM (3376) or aad.org. Follow the AAD on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology), Twitter (@AADskin), Instagram (@AADskin1), or YouTube (AcademyofDermatology).
Editor’s note: The AAD does not promote or endorse any products or services. This content is intended as editorial content and should not be embedded with any paid, sponsored or advertorial content as it could be perceived as an AAD endorsement.