Suntans and sunburns used to be a normal, teenage summer ritual. Now, studies show that prolonged sun exposure can put one at increased risk for malignant melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer. One study at Harvard Medical School found that even one case of blistering sunburn in childhood could double a young person’s risk of developing melanoma.
Encourage your teenage sun-worshipper to use a sunscreen every time he or she is outside. This applies to everyone, even those with very dark or black skin, but is especially important for those with fair complexions. If your teen is fair, or it is early in the season, urge him or her to use a sunscreen with a protection factor of 15-33.
Your teenager should also avoid, if possible, prolonged sun exposure between the hours of 10 A.M. and 2 P.M., when the sun’s rays are most direct.
Avoid the use of a sun reflector. If your teen insists on getting a tan, encourage moderation. A tan should be acquired gradually with sunscreens used to prevent burning. Long sun tanning sessions will only damage skin and will not cause faster tanning.
Common sense and moderation can mean both good health and summer fun.
Dr. Wibbelsman, M.D., is an award-winning author and former “Dear Doctor” columnist for Teen magazine. Chair of Adolescent Medicine for the Permanente Medical Group, Northern California, he is chief of the Teen-Age Clinic at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco, and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School. Dr. Wibbelsman is the news anchor for a Bay Area television series, “Medicine in the Nineties”.