Sun Safety-Based Lessons are Ineffective for Educating Teens About Skin Cancer

Over the 18 years since the Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) was founded, we’ve learned that the success of sun safety instruction varies, depending on the age of the students.

Sun safety education has a much greater effect on elementary school students than it does on teens who attend junior high and high school.

Sloan Kettering Cancer Center recently conducted a study on this topic. They researched the difference between elementary and middle school students in Framingham, Massachusetts. They discovered a 50% reduction in the use of sunscreen use by the middle schoolers in comparison with that of the elementary school students.

Despite significantly increasing the amount of sun safety instruction taught in classrooms, we’re frequently informed by secondary school health teachers that their students aren’t taking heed of the information presented to them. They ignore the dangers of skin exposure to UV rays, and continue to tan either naturally or through tanning beds.

The sun’s harmful UV rays are directly responsible for 70% of melanomas and 95% of other skin cancers. In light of these alarming statistics, the question remains why would teens continually disregard sun safety lessons designed to keep them safe and healthy?

We think that the way the information is being presented is improperly balanced. Sun safety is overemphasized at the expense of sufficiently educating students about the consequences of overexposure to UV rays.

MEF lessons do include sun safety information of course, but they start by focusing the students’ attention on melanoma itself; what it really is, what it does and how it does it. This is tremendously important, because melanoma is the skin cancer most likely to affect them all the way from infancy into adulthood.

Our lessons start with providing key information about melanoma.

Specifically:

  • That teens are susceptible to melanoma right now
  • How melanoma develops and spreads to other parts of the body
  • Its risk factors and warning signs
  • How (and how often) to self-examine their skin for early signs of the disease
  • How easy melanoma is to cure if it’s found early- and how lethal it is if found too late

The second part of the lessons focus on the role that UV radiation plays in causing melanoma, and how to reduce the risks from it.

It’s important that the lesson topics are presented in the correct order: melanoma first, sun safety second. To a teen sitting in a classroom, a sun safety talk may sound very much like a parental lecture on brushing their teeth or washing their hands. In other words, just the sort of white noise they’d be likely to tune out.

However, when melanoma is explained to teens; when right off the bat they’re informed (and, also importantly, shown) just how much damage this disease can inflict, they are much more likely to take sun safety seriously and give it the respect it commands.

A teacher survey that we recently conducted regarding the impact of MEF’s lessons yielded some very positive results. Among them:

  • 73% of teachers reported that students made appointments to get moles checked after receiving the lessons
  • 14.8% of teachers were told by students that early melanomas were found because of the lessons
  • 34% of teachers said students found precancerous moles because of the lessons
  • After the lessons, 95% of teachers reported students said they would use more sunscreen, and 81% reported students said they would stop using tanning beds

That is very encouraging data. Our previous blog post on this specific survey provides additional positive results regarding the impact of the lessons on teachers and their families. If you’d like to read it, please click HERE.

*Information source articles: MEF Fall 2017 Newsletter Article, Prospective Study of Sunburn and Sun Behavior Patterns During Adolescence, Pediatrics. Feb 2012; 129(2): 309–317, Sun-protective behaviors in populations at high risk for skin cancer, Psychology Research and Behavior Management, December 20, 2013, Indoor Tanning Is Not Safe, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Updated January 24, 2017, Melanoma Knowledge and Sun Protection Attitudes and Behaviors Among College Students by Gender and Skin Type, American Journal of Health Education, Sept/Oct 2005, Vol 36, No. 5

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

SPF: Fact versus Fiction

Each day, more people learn about the importance of wearing sunscreen whenever they’re outdoors to shield themselves against the sun’s harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays. While that news is heartening, getting that information out is only half of the battle.

If a user misunderstands how a sunscreen’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF) works, or if the product is incorrectly applied, the level of protection received can be considerably lower than he or she believes it to be. That can be very dangerous.

Here’s why:

If your mouthwash contained a lesser percentage of cinnamon flavor than you thought it did, it would make absolutely no difference as far as your health is concerned. However, if you walked around every day thinking you were wearing a sunscreen that provided more skin defense than it actually did, that mistaken notion could end up resulting in skin cancer. Or, even worse, the potentially deadly melanoma.

Don’t Get Burned, Either Literally or Figuratively

We’d like to help clear up this confusion. There is a view held by many that, because an SPF 50 sunscreen absorbs 98% of UVB radiation while an SPF 100 sunscreen absorbs 99%, just 1% more, the SPF 100 sunscreen offers hardly any advantage over the SPF 50 sunscreen. That’s a misinterpretation of the facts.

If an SPF 100 sunscreen is correctly applied and continually re-applied every two hours at a minimum, (or immediately after swimming or profuse sweating) it’ll provide adequate skin protection for double the amount of time that a SPF 50 sunscreen will.

But Wait, There’s More!

There are other ways that we inadvertently end up leaving ourselves vulnerable to those dangerous UV rays. We’ll go over a few here.

It’s the rare person who applies an amount of sunscreen sufficient enough to reach the SPF level touted by the product. And, whether they do or not, most don’t re-apply it as needed- if they even re-apply it at all.

Every time you use sunscreen, the goal should be to cover every sun-exposed inch of skin. If you’re in a swimsuit, the necessary quantity is enough to fill a shot glass. In fact, instead of guessing, consider simply using an actual shot glass.

Unfortunately, independent studies have shown that an alarming number of sunscreen brands don’t meet the SPF ratings that their packages trumpet. It’s important to do a little online research on your favorite brand to see if the claimed SPF is accurate.

Finally, it bears repeating. You’ve probably heard that famous real estate slogan, it’s all about location, location, location! With sunscreen, think re-application, re-application, re-application! If you’re going to be spending time outdoors, re-application is as important as applying sunscreen is to begin with.

*Additional source: Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) Fall 2016 Newsletter

To visit our websites, please click: Skincheck.org and/or Melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma

SPF is Far Less Important than How Much is Applied

Anyone with even the most basic awareness of skin cancer is likely to know that the Golden Rule of practicing sun-safety is to wear sunscreen. The only better protection from the sun’s harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays is to sit inside your home with all the window shades drawn.

Unfortunately, though, there is a key piece of information regarding sunscreen of which far too many people are unaware.

Get the Maximum SPF Out of Your Sunscreen

First, if you’re a regular sunscreen user- excellent job. However, it’s equally important to apply the correct amount. This is the only way to ensure that the sun protection factor (SPF) sun-shield that you’re actually receiving is identical to what is stated on the product.

Many of us, albeit unwittingly, fall into that category. The typical wearer applies a mere 25% of what’s required to achieve a sunscreen’s full safety potential. And while 75% off may be fantastic for department store sales; it is disastrous to our skin. To illustrate further, when 25% of an SPF 100 rated sunscreen is applied, the true SPF isn’t 25- it’s only 3.2.

Anyone who spends even a brief time reading up on skin cancer and melanoma, will inevitably come across a few of the same specific comparisons used in a wide variety of materials. The one relevant to this post is that the minimum volume of sunscreen to use for each application would be enough to fill a shot glass. It’s also important that it be evenly distributed across any exposed skin, and be re-applied at a maximum of two hours. Even sooner than that if you’ve been sweating or swimming.

Speaking of the latter, spending a day at a beach or pool wearing only a swimsuit is not a good idea. However, anyone who does should use up an entire a 6-ounce container of sunscreen on him or herself by the time they leave. Do you use that much or know anyone who does?

The main point is important to reiterate: you must apply sunscreen much more heavily than that of most users to achieve the rated SPF.

Don’t just get your money’s worth of SPF; get your skin’s good health worth.

*Additional sources: Vitals.lifehacker.com, Onlinelibrary.wiley.com

*To visit our websites, please click: skincheck.org and/or melanomaeducation.net

Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation

Twitter: @FindMelanoma