How to Talk to Teens About Skin Cancer Prevention

Health Writer

These days, sporting a tan is viewed by many teens as more attractive than having a pale skin tone. It may signify that you’re healthy, spend time outdoors, are athletic or have an active social life. But with the danger of UV rays, striving for this idealized look can also raise the risk of skin cancer.

And to make matters worse, teens are also notorious for not heeding the necessary precautions to prevent skin cancer, especially since it’s a problem that arises much later down the road. That’s why it’s of utmost importance talk to your teens about protecting their skin from the sun and addressing the myths surrounding being tan. Below are a few suggestions for addressing sun safety with the teen in your life:

Before having the talk...Children, teens included, learn by example, so start by becoming one. Take the lead in applying sunscreen every morning and repeating every 2 hours when you’re outdoors. Find shady areas to sit while at the beach, pool, social event or sporting event. Make sun safety a normal part of your day, and your children will follow.

It’s also important to know the facts. Up to 20 percent of all Americans will develop skin cancer sometime in their lifetime, and the risk of developing melanoma doubles if you have had more than five sunburns in your life. Tanning beds also increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Conversely, using sunscreen can reduce the likelihood of developing skin cancer by 40 to 50 percent. Knowing the statistics can be used in helping your teen understand why it’s important to practice sun safety now.

Highlighting the hazardun exposure has various effects, so make sure go over as many as you can. For instance, your teen might be more apt to listen to the risk of early aging on the skin rather than the chances of developing skin cancer. In this case, you can explain that even if she is not in a high risk group for cancer (fair skinned, red hair), her skin is still apt to age much faster than those who choose not to tan.

At the same time, make sure to go over thedangers of tanning beds. Whilemany teens believe that using tanning beds can be a safe alternative, this simply isn’t true. Some states have enacted laws to prevent those under 18 from using them. Help your teen understand that UV exposure, whether from direct sunlight or tanning beds, is still dangerous.

An alternative that can be less hazardous, though, is the use of self-tanning products. So if your teen is insistent that tanning is best, suggest self-tanning products and offer to help her figure out which ones are best. Be sure, however, to discuss the risks and benefits of self-tanners.



Credit: Thinkstock

Speaking their language

Outer beauty is highly coveted in our society, but you one approach you can try is have your teen focus on her own strengths instead. Teach her that outer beauty is simply one small aspect that can change with time, while inner beauty stays the same -- whether the outside is tan or not.

You can also refer to role models, such as celebrities, who have chosen not to tan. As the dangers of tanning have become better-known, some movie stars have shunned the tanned look and have taken more pride in their natural appearance. According to, Victoria Beckham and Nicole Kidman both have made conscious decisions to celebrate their natural color.

Whatever comes of it, make sure to keep the discussion open and ongoing**.** Try to get your teen’s viewpoints - even if you don’t agree. That way, you can tailor your message based on their perspective and correct any misinformation. And while you don’t want to make your teen feel like you and your partner are ganging up on her, you do want to keep the message of sun safety going. There are different ways to get the information across to your child so don’t stop trying.

Yes, your opinion still countemember that as your child enters the teen years, peers become important. Teens often form opinions based not only what their parents say but what they hear from others like them. That doesn’t mean you don’t have any influence. You are still the parent and you can still influence your teen’s behaviors and perspectives on many matters much more than you realize. Keep talking.

See more helpful articles on sun safety:

Six Strategies for Summer Sun Safety

Making Sure You Get Enough Vitamin D While Protecting Yourself From the Sun

Tanning and UV Light Safety: A HealthCentral Explainer

Choosing the Best Sunscreen

Does Sunscreen Really Protect You From Skin Cancer?


How to Talk to Your Teen About Tanning: Skin Cancer Foundation

Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics: Skin Cancer Foundation

Transcript for Skin Cancer Prevention for Teens: M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on twitter @eileenmbaileyand on Facebook at eileenmbailey.