A Brigham Young University study recently found that skin cancer risks for college students remain just as high in the winter as they are in the summer.
The high risks in the winter are related to students not using sunscreen and using tanning beds in the winter months. While looking at sunscreen use and tanning bed use in students, the study also took into account the various skin types.
The study did not see more people wearing sunscreen in the summer, and it also found that people who have paler skin versus darker skin were not any more likely to wear sunscreen.
Katreena Merrill, senior study author and BYU professor of nursing, said this is a bit concerning given that skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer. Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, has doubled over the last several decades, according to Merrill.
“Risk behaviors include going out in the sun and not protecting yourself via protective clothing or sunscreen,” Merrill said. “People who are under 30 tend to go out in the sun more when unprotected, so they’re pretty at risk. The fact that skin cancer develops over time makes it even more concerning because if we have people going out today in the sun, it’s not like they get cancer tomorrow, they’re going to develop it later.”
During the winter months, many Utahns take to the mountains for the skiing and snowboarding seasons. This also leads to a higher risk of skin cancer as UV radiation increases in higher altitudes.
Utah County is already a high risk area due to the elevation, but as people make their way up into the mountains, that risk increases. Many forget to apply sunscreen to their ears, face or any other areas that may be left exposed.
This needs to be a priority for those recreating outdoors at higher altitudes.
“You don’t think about it, but there’s a lot of parts,” Merrill said. “Especially the nose, the lips and the ears can be concerning because if you don’t put sunscreen on them they tend to get burned. It’s the amount of times you get burnt that reflects your risk.”
The study also found that males are more likely to use tanning beds in the winter. Merrill added tanning beds gives people a concentrated exposure on purpose, and often times, people will use things to help increase the tan, as well.
These people may want the aesthetic look that can come with a tan, but they are not taking skin care seriously and may experience skin cancer later in life.
“I think they’re looking for aesthetics, but in reality, they’re actually causing skin damage,” Merrill said. “The concept of having a base tan as protective, it’s not protective. You don’t go out and get a base tan so that you won’t burn, that’s actually a myth.”
The American Dermatology Association recommends wearing 30 SPF sunscreen while the CDC recommends at least 15. This also needs to include lip balm with sunscreen and protective clothing.
“People laugh about the pioneers, covering everything up, but one of the reasons they did that is because there was no sunscreen,” Merrill said. “The protective clothing that we have today actually has a UV rating on them, so there are a lot of things you can do without having to put a lotion on or looking like a pioneer. You can also avoid the sun during the peak hours if that is something you can do and then specifically not do high risk things like tanning.”
One of the things Merrill said stood out to her from the study was that healthcare providers should encourage young people to use sunscreen and become a role model for others.