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Teenage indoor tanning: certain parents less likely to be aware of health risks

Parents of adolescents who are male, older (16 and 17 years), and whose skin is less likely to sunburn, are more likely not to associate indoor tanning facilities and devices with negative health risks, according to the results of a national survey presented at the American Academy of Dermatology 2018 Annual Meeting in San Diego and published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine (Oct. 2017; 53(4):473–480).

Fathers, guardians who have used indoor tanning devices themselves, and those who have stated that they have never received skin cancer prevention counselling from their child’s physician, are also less likely to recognize the health risks of indoor tanning.

A total of 1,244 parents of children aged 11 to 17 years were included in the study conducted by a team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“Parents who have never seen their children get sunburned or discussed skin cancer prevention with a doctor may not be aware of the dangers of unprotected exposure to ultraviolet light,” said Dr. Maryam Asgari, associate professor of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, in a press release. “Since mothers are often the ones to take their children to the doctor, fathers may be less likely to receive skin cancer prevention counselling from their child’s provider.”

Targeted education and outreach efforts for these parents can encourage them to be partners in preventing skin cancer among adolescents, according to the study authors. Copyright-free photo courtesy of

According to another study, parents have a significant influence on their children’s skincare habits. Forty-five per cent of people in the U.S. who start tanning before 16 years of age do so with a family member (JAMA Dermatology 2017; 153(5):470–472).

“While it’s not surprising that parents who have tanned themselves would have favourable attitudes toward their children’s indoor tanning, it’s important for all parents to understand the dangers of tanning at a young age and communicate those dangers to their children,” said Dr. Asgari.

Using indoor tanning beds before age 35 years can increase one’s risk of melanoma by 59%, and this risk increases with each use (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev Jun. 2010; 19(6):1557–1568).

“Minors are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of indoor tanning,” said Dr. Asgari. “If you use a tanning device early in life, you’re more likely to develop skin cancer later in life, your skin could age prematurely, and you may even develop a tanning addiction. The best way to avoid these risks is to never start tanning in the first place.”

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