A couple of weekends ago, my young adult daughter and I were out of town together at an event that had us outdoors for 8 or more hours per day. On the first of these days, I pulled out the sunscreen I had brought and slathered myself generously. As a fair-skinned person, I have seen my share of sunburns over the years. I’m also concerned about the health of my skin. More than one of my relatives, including my grandmother and a couple of uncles, have been treated for skin cancers.
Naturally, when I was done, I handed the sunscreen to my daughter. Or tried to. My effort was met with an exaggerated roll of her eyes.
“Really?” I said. “You need to put this on. You don’t want a sunburn.”
Another sigh. But she reached for the bottle and slowly began putting it on, in much too thin a layer for my motherly taste.
“You need more than that,” I said. “And don’t miss your neck.”
“Ugh, Mom. I’ve got it. But why did you not get the spray kind? It’s a lot easier.”
Apparently this slightly negative attitude toward sunscreen isn’t too unusual among teens and young adults. Perhaps it’s the young adult tendency to view themselves as something like immortal and to believe that bad things won’t happen to them. (Unfortunately, though, a 2012 study revealed an alarming rise in melanoma among people aged 18 to 39: over the past 40 years, rates of this potentially deadly skin cancer grew by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men.*)
Perhaps it’s the fact that having a golden tan continues to be the widely-accepted epitome of health and beauty. (A recent report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 30 percent of white high school girls and 25 percent of white women aged 18-34 in the United States have used indoor tanning devices within the last year.**)
Perhaps it’s simply the inconvenience of stopping their more interesting activities to put it on.
Whatever it is, it seems that the motivators for getting teens and young adults to use sunscreen may be different than we think. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology finds that young people are more concerned about wrinkles than melanomas and skin cancer, and they will more readily use sunscreen after learning about the wrinkle-causing aspects of getting too much sun.***
As a mother, I honestly don’t care much about what it takes to get my daughter to use sunscreen. I just want her to use it. I am encouraged that she is actually very comfortable with her paler-than-most-of-her-friends skin, and I hope that she is, in some way, a role model for others. We sorely need young adult role models, especially of the celebrity type, who show pride in having pale skin…and in using sunscreen.
Until those role models emerge, I’ll keep encouraging my daughter to put on her sunscreen.
If I have to, I’ll threaten her with the possibility of future wrinkles.
And, of course, since she seems to prefer it, I’ll buy the spray kind.
We’ve written about the sun and your skin before in our blog! Be sure to check out these additional posts: