THURSDAY, Dec. 24, 2020 – Researchers from two universities in Utah have a warning for students planning to hit the slopes or play in the snow without sunscreen: You could significantly increase your risk of skin cancer.
A study by Brigham Young University College of Nursing students from Provo found that only 9% use sunscreen. They also discovered how students use solariums in winter, especially among men.
These two factors, combined with increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays that bounce off snow and ice, mean winter activities can be just as devastating to the skin as summer ones, the researchers said.
“The worst burn I ever got was when I went skiing and didn’t put on sunscreen,” said senior study author Katreena Merrill, an associate professor of nursing. “A lot of people think it’s going to be good in the winter, but it’s just as important to protect yourself in the winter sun as it is in the summer sun.”
Past research has shown that more than 50% of students use solariums. Using a tanning bed before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 75%, according to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Tanning beds very purposefully expose your skin to potential cancer,” Merrill said. “UV radiation comes from the sun and artificially from tanning beds. It penetrates glass and clouds, damaging DNA cells and aging skin.”
About 20% of Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Five or more sunburns double the risk of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. According to the study, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other types of cancer combined.
The researchers also analyzed protective behaviors by phenotypic risk, another key risk factor for skin cancer. It is associated with skin types that contain different amounts of melanin. Researchers claim that people who lack melanin – often those with fair skin and red hair – have the highest risk of developing skin cancer.
Unfortunately, they found that these students were more likely not to use sunscreen than their lower-risk friends and that they were equally likely to use sunscreen.
“There aren’t enough college-age individuals who constantly wear sunscreen,” lead author Emily Graham, a medical student at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, said in a university statement. “This is particularly worrying in Utah, which has the highest incidence of melanoma in the country.”
Merrill said students need to be more proactive in protecting their skin while they are young. He suggests wearing sunscreen all year round in the sun, as well as wearing hats and protective clothing. He warmly recommends not to use tanning beds.
The findings were recently published in Journal of the Association of Dermatological Nurses.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers several tips on sun safety.
SOURCE: Brigham Young University, news release, December 17, 2020
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