Here’s a statistic that probably won’t surprise you: less than one-third of American youths practice effective sun protection, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
That’s a problem because the more sunburns a teenager gets, the higher the risk of developing skin cancer as an adult.
“It’s the same reason we tell our teenagers not to smoke,” explains Dr. Mary Yurko, a pediatric dermatologist with the Helen Devos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich. “You don’t get lung cancer when you are 16 or 18. You get it 20 to 30 years later.”
Not that younger people are immune to skin cancer, however. Melanoma—the most deadly form of skin cancer—is the most common form of cancer among 25 to 29 year olds and the second most among 15 to 19 year olds.
So, what are best practices when it comes to sun protection? Here’s what Dr. Yurko recommends for everyone:
Sun Safety Tips
1) Use a minimum SPF 30 sunscreen.
The label should say “broad spectrum,” so it protects against UVA and UVB rays. If your teenager will be in and around water, the label should also say “water resistant.”
Note: SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of the sun’s rays. A higher SPF will block slightly more, but no amount of SPF can block 100 percent of the sun’s rays.
2) Use a generous amount—about an ounce and a half—and reapply every two hours.
Teenagers who prefer sprays should spray the sunscreen directly into their hands, then rub it on. “Don’t inhale the spray,” cautions Yurko. “And don’t spray it onto your face.”
3) Cover up.
If a cute sundress, funky hat, or cool t-shirt will get your teenager to cover up in the sun, it’s well worth the cost.
4) Remind, remind, remind—just as you would for any other risky behavior.
“You’re trying to establish healthy habits that last through your teenager’s whole life,” says Yurko. “Your message is that you can go out with your friends and have a fun time, but be sensible.”
And if your teenager gets a sunburn? “Use a damp towel, so it feels cooler and doesn’t hurt as much,” recommends Yurko. “You can put on a moisturizer with aloe or soy that feels a little cooling. You can take ibuprofen to turn down inflammation.”