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A Third of Young Adults Still Believe 'Tan Is Healthier' Myth: Survey
  • Posted May 2, 2024

A Third of Young Adults Still Believe 'Tan Is Healthier' Myth: Survey

Brianna Starr, 29, didn't think twice about sunbathing without sunscreen, hoping to get a golden tan that to many connotes health and beauty.

But when her sister was diagnosed with melanoma at the age of 19, she got serious about protecting her skin health, says Starr, a certified physician assistant at Orlando Health in Florida.

“There is a history of melanoma in my family, and so I started seeing a dermatologist every six months and actually flagged two separate moles, one on my neck and one on my shoulder,” Starr said in an Orlando Health news release. The moles were abnormal and could have developed into melanoma.

Unfortunately, there are far too many young adults with the same mindset Starr once had, a new survey finds.

Nearly a third of Americans (32%) think that a tan makes people look better and healthier, a dangerous beauty standard that can increase a person's risk of skin cancer, poll results show.

“There is no such thing as a healthy tan, as it's really just a visual manifestation of damage to the skin,” said Dr. Rajesh Nair, an oncology surgeon at the Orlando Health Cancer Institute. “But we're fighting against a perceived positive image and health benefits of something that actually has a totally opposite reality, which is that suntanned skin represents an increased risk of a deadly disease.”

The survey also found that young adults are likely to believe myths and misinformation about sun protection that flood social media.

About one in seven adults (14%) younger than 35 think daily sunscreen use is more harmful to the skin that direct sun exposure, the poll found.

And nearly a quarter (23%) believe drinking water and staying hydrated prevents a sunburn.

Starr sees such misinformation regularly trending on social media.

“I think a lot of people get their information from TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, that might not be actually legit,” Starr said. “And you're very influenced by your friends and peers, so you see a video or hear something from your friend, you're like, ‘Oh, yes. I need to try that,' and you believe it.”

However, both those ideas are balderdash, Nair said.

“There is no scientific data suggesting that drinking water provides any protection from the sun,” Nair said. “As for sunscreens, the protective benefits far outweigh any known risks, but if you're concerned about chemicals or ingredients in a sunscreen, mineral sunscreens like zinc oxide that offer a physical barrier to the sun are proven to be safe, as well as clothing with SPF protection.”

“Our fear is that people buy into a lot of really dangerous ideas that put them at added risk,” Nair added.

Starr says she's now diligent about applying and reapplying sunscreen whenever she's outdoors.

Experts recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and reapplying it every two hours -- especially if you're sweating or swimming.

People who spend lots of time outdoors should also schedule regular skin cancer screenings with a dermatologist or their family doctor.

“Unfortunately, we're seeing skin cancer more and more in patients of a young age. And because it's something that's often not on their radar, it tends to be diagnosed in more advanced stages,” Nair said.

“We don't want to discourage people from being outside and being active because there are so many health benefits to that, but it's also important to know that sun protection can be lifesaving, and the only effective way of protecting yourself is limiting the effects of UV radiation on the skin,” Nair concluded.

More information

The American Cancer Society has a quiz on sun safety IQ.

SOURCE: Orlando Health, news release, May 1, 2024

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