Fewer U.S. teenagers are using sunscreen, even as skin cancer rates increase, a study found.
The percentage of high school students using sunscreen dropped from 67.7 percent in 2001 to 56.1 percent in 2011, according to the study by researchers at William Paterson University in New Jersey and published Thursday in the publication Preventing Chronic Disease.
The study analyzed survey data from high school students collected for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.
The drop in sunscreen use occurred as melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, increased 1.6 percent annually among men from 2001 to 2010 and 1.4 percent among women, the study said.
“It’s alarming,” said Corey Basch, assistant professor of public heath at William Paterson and one of the study’s authors. “Given that the rates of skin cancer and melanoma are going up, we would have liked to have seen sun protection measures also going up.”
The CDC recommends using sunscreen and avoiding tanning beds to avoid developing skin cancer.
Avoiding over-exposure to the sun is particularly important during childhood and adolescence, the study said.
The findings point to the need for a greater push to inform teenagers on the dangers of sun exposure, said Basch.
“What we really need is to change the mindset that having this artificially tanned skin is attractive,” she said.
In Australia, a massive public information campaign called “Slip Slop Slap” included handing out free sunscreen at beaches and was effective in increasing sun protection, Basch said. Television ads showed beachgoers wearing hats and shirts.
“Over time, it really transformed how people envisioned a beach day,” Basch said. “It was no longer just frying yourself, so to speak, on a beach in a string bikini.”
While the use of sunscreen by teenagers is dropping in the United States, so is the use of indoor tanning devices, the study said.
From 2009 to 2011, the percentage of respondents using tanning devices dropped from 15.6 percent to 13.3 percent, the study said. However, the decrease was so small that it is not considered significant, Basch said.