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Sun Safety For Teens: Why Sunscreen Needs to be a Habit

If you’re of, ahem, a certain age, you probably remember the days of “lying out” in the backyard covered in baby oil—maybe even lying on foil—all in pursuit of that coveted, bronze tan. Now, older and wiser, we’re still slathering ourselves up, but it’s with SPF 50. So how do you transform your hard-gained wisdom into some sun safety rules for teens?

Like our former selves, many teens will go to unsafe lengths to pursue a tan, from venturing out sans sunscreen to climbing into the tanning bed.

Bad idea, says Dr. Ellen Rome, head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.

“It’s important for young people and parents to understand that melanoma does not just affect adults. In fact, over the past 40 years, the rate of skin cancer among children and teens has increased by more than 250%,” she notes.

Indoor tanning is particularly harmful for kids and teens. Their skin is very sensitive to the ultraviolet (UV) rays produced by tanning beds, she says. Yet, annually, an estimated 1.6 million U.S. minors use them anyway.

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“In a perfect world, no tan would be needed to define beauty. Your natural color would be in,” Rome says. Since, sadly, that is not yet the case, she says parents need to just say no to unsafe tanning and encourage teens to consider alternatives like spray tans (avoid breathing in the spray) or sunless tanning lotions.

By the time your son or daughter is 12 or 13 years old, they are old enough “to make wearing sunscreen part of a daily routine (without your doing it for them) if they are going to be outside for more than 5 or 10 minutes,” says Dr. Angela Lamb, Director of the Mount Sinai Hospital Dermatology Practice in New York City. Again, make sure you are using a lotion formulated for the face, not the thicker lotions for use on the rest of your body. “Find a facial moisturizer that is oil-free and has sunscreen. Cetaphil makes a facial moisturizer that is oil-free and has an SPF of 30 that works well,” recommends Dr. Lamb.

So set some guidelines for sun safety for teens.

Treat sun protection as a health and safety issue, just as you require teens to wear a seatbelt and encourage them to eat nutritious food.

They’ll thank you some day!

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and mom of three teen boys. Read more about Cathie at

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