Youth spend time under the sun with little protection

As Canada moves into the hottest days of summer, the Canadian Cancer Society releases its look at sun habits and finds that teenagers and young adults spend the most amount of time in the sun but also use the least amount of protection.

The Society's National Sun Survey found that among young adults between the ages of 16 and 24, almost 50 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women spend at least two hours per day in the sun on a summer day.

However, only about 42 per cent of young men and 58 per cent of young women use protection, such as sunscreen or wearing hats or protective clothing, to prevent themselves from being overexposed to the sun.

Consequently, 20 to 30 per cent of all adults get at least one sunburn every summer. Sunburns damage skin cells, which can later lead to skin cancer.

"What was particularly concerning was the fact that 50 per cent of the young adults seek tans and one third of young women are using tanning beds," Heather Chappell, senior manager of cancer control policy at the Canadian Cancer Society. "Those are risky behaviours with regards to skin cancer."

In fact, melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is the second most common form of cancer in young adults.

"If we aren't able to intervene with this age group, we're going to see those numbers rise," Chappell said.

On a positive note, the survey found that adults over the age of 65 are effectively protecting themselves against overexposure to the sun. As well, parents are adequately protecting babies and small children.

The organization offers these tips for staying safe in the sun:
  • Avoid excessive exposure during the sun's peak times, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Wear loosely fitting, lightweight, tightly woven clothing. 
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim that covers the entire face and neck. 
  • Wear sunglasses. 
  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15, or as high as 30 if outdoors for a long period. 
  • Apply sunscreen about 20 minutes before going outside.
The risk of skin cancer is higher for people who:
  • have light-coloured skin, eyes and hair
  • work, play or exercise in the sun for long periods of time
  • had several blistering sunburns as a child
  • take drugs that make them more sensitive to UV light
More than 7,000 Canadians over the age of 16 completed the survey, which was conducted in 2006.