Burn, Baby, Burn: Teen Boys Least Likely to Use Protection

The old adage “boys will be boys” epitomizes the reckless abandon with which most boys view life — whether it’s racing dirt bikes on slick streets without wearing a helmet or spending countless hours on the beach without an ounce of sunscreen for protection. Now a new survey by the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy) confirms that teenage boys are the worst violators when it comes to protecting themselves from the sun. This may explain why studies cite middle-age and older men with higher rates of skin cancer than any other gender or age group.

Speaking today at the Academy’s Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month news conference, dermatologist Darrell S. Rigel, M.D., clinical professor, New York University Medical Center in New York, N.Y., presented new data on teen boys’ attitudes about sun protection and why their behavior translates into an increased risk for developing skin cancer later in life.

“Without a doubt, teenagers are always the hardest demographic to reach with any health warning,” explained Dr. Rigel. “They don’t equate their bad behavior in the present with bad things happening to them later in life as a consequence. Skin cancer is no exception.”

Boys to Men
When it comes to playing it safe in the sun, the Academy survey found that teenage boys are least likely to stay out of harm’s way. In fact, older teen boys (aged 15 to 17) are the least careful when it comes to protecting their skin from sun exposure – with only 32 percent of those surveyed reporting that they are very or somewhat careful.

This lax behavior could explain findings from a previous study published in the January 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in which older white men had a higher incidence of skin cancer. By examining data obtained from the Academy’s Skin Cancer Screening Program, where dermatologists provide free skin cancer screenings to consumers, the study concluded that the majority (44 percent) of individuals diagnosed with melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – were white men over the age of 50. These men accounted for fewer than 20 percent of all individuals screened during the three-year time period when the data was examined, suggesting that the incidence of skin cancer would be even higher in this demographic if more older men participated in the screenings.

“Invasive melanoma, which is the hardest type of skin cancer to treat, is currently the fifth most common cancer in men,” said Dr. Rigel. “While skin cancer can take years to develop, we need to reach teenage boys now to influence their behavior and reverse this alarming trend. Otherwise, the odds are extremely high that they will develop this potentially deadly form of skin cancer when they get older.”

Boys vs. Girls
The survey also compared the sun protection attitudes of boys and girls. “While boys are more careless, the survey found there are interesting differences between boys and girls when it comes to heeding our advice,” stated Dr. Rigel.

When asked how careful they are about protecting their skin from the sun, older teenage boys were the least vigilant compared to younger boys and girls of all ages. Among 15- to 17-year-old boys, only 32 percent reported that they are very careful or somewhat careful about protecting their skin from sun exposure – compared to 58 percent of girls of the same age.

Across the board, both younger and older teen boys (age 12 to 17) were less cautious in the sun than teenage girls (age 12 to 17). Considerably fewer boys reported wearing protective clothing and seeking shade when outdoors for long periods of time compared to girls, and only 33 percent of boys said that they apply sunscreen when they are going to be out in the sun vs. 53 percent of girls.

One area that boys fared better than girls was when they were asked if they wear hats when outdoors in the sun (50 percent of boys vs. 22 percent of girls), although Dr. Rigel noted that these hats tend to be baseball caps instead of wide-brimmed hats that provide the recommended sun protection. “While baseball caps are better than wearing no hat at all, they don’t adequately protect the neck and ears from sun exposure,” said Dr. Rigel.

Among all teens, younger teens (age 12 to 14) tend to be more vigilant about protecting themselves from the sun than older teens (age 15 to 17). When asked about how careful they are to protect their skin from the sun, 52 percent of the younger teens reported that they are very or somewhat careful vs. only 43 percent of older teens.

“With younger teens, parents still have influence on their child’s behavior which makes them more likely to wear sunscreen and protective clothing when they are going to be outdoors for a long period of time,” added Dr. Rigel. “On the other hand, older teens start exerting their independence and tend to ignore their parents’ advice – including practicing proper sun protection.”

When asked about their use of tanning beds in the last year, boys were less likely to engage in this dangerous activity than girls – with only 5 percent of boys reporting that they used a tanning bed last year vs. 19 percent of girls. The majority of girls who used a tanning bed (39 percent) noted that the reason they did was to get a tan for a special occasion, such as a wedding or prom.

In March 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) formally recognized the potential dangers that indoor tanning poses to minors and recommended that no person under the age of 18 should use a tanning bed. The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) position statement on indoor tanning encourages states to aggressively pursue legislation that protects children.

Specifically, the AADA supports the following requirements for indoor tanning facilities:

* No minor should be permitted to use tanning devices.
* A Surgeon General’s warning should be placed on all tanning devices.
* No person or facility should advertise the use of any ultraviolet A or ultraviolet B tanning device using wording such as “safe,” “safe tanning,” “no harmful rays,” “no adverse effect,” or similar wording or concepts.

“Skin cancer is preventable but until teens change their behavior, we’ll continue to see skin cancer rates continue to rise in this country,” said Dr. Rigel.

The study results were determined by a random sample telephone survey conducted among a national sample of 505 teens–comprising 254 males and 251 females 12 to 17 years of age, living in private households in the continental United States. This TEEN CARAVAN® survey was conducted in February 2005 by Opinion Research Corporation (Princeton, N.J.) in collaboration with the Academy.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.