• The Statistics Sound Staggering

    Dr Claudia AguirreAbout 9 out of 10 young women who visit tanning booths know perfectly well that they are increasing their risk of developing a fatal form of skin cancer: melanoma. Yet they walk in and lay in the tanning booth anyway. Almost half of tanning booth visitors know someone with skin cancer. What’s going on?

    These statistics are brought to us by a recent survey from the American Association of Dermatology of almost 4,000 white females, aged 14-22. The president of the Academy, Dr. Ronald Moy, stated: “Our survey confirms that teens are more concerned with their current looks than their future health, even though they realize that skin cancer is a risk factor of their behavior.”

    Here is my interpretation: the teenage brain really is not fully developed. As we know, adolescence is a time of great change. Hormonal fluctuations and rapid growth is accompanied by changes in brain and behavior as well. More and more research confirms that the teenage brain is wired to partake in increased risk taking and sensation seeking- which can take a toll on parents!

    Just this year, new research from the University of Pittsburgh provides evidence of brain activity differences between adolescents and adults. In short, teenagers’ brains are wired to be so excited by immediate reward, that often they partake in riskier behavior and ignore consequences. This may have evolutionary significance, but that is another story.

    Taking these data together can present a clearer picture- those adolescents seeking the immediate reward from a tanning session override the known long-term consequences of skin cancer development risk. So are teens doomed to get skin cancer because they ignore long-term consequences? No. The recent ad campaign against smoking has shown to have positive effects on reducing teen smoking, so we may need a creative answer very soon. What we can do now is continuously educate teens and present the risks in a more realistic, not futuristic, manner. Since tanning is primarily a cosmetic behavior, we must remind them that tanning also ages skin prematurely… and no girl wants that!

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