Holiday 'binge tanning' increasing skin cancer risk for young brits

Cancer Research UK

Over a third of under 25s spend more than five hours a day in the sun

A new survey, released today by Cancer Research UK to raise awareness of its annual SunSmart campaign, has identified a worrying trend for 'binge tanning' among young people heading off on holiday this summer.

The results, published to mark the start of Sun Awareness Week, reveal that 36 per cent of 15-24 year olds spend over five hours in the sun each day on their main summer holiday. Additionally, a third (32 per cent) say they would be happy to increase their time in the sun if they did not feel tanned enough towards the end of their break.

As well as spending extra time in the sun, young people say they are prepared to go to many other lengths if they do not feel tanned enough towards the end of their holiday. Almost a third (29 per cent) say they would use sunscreen with a low protection factor, with 19 per cent happy to go without sunscreen altogether and 15 per cent using products like baby oil to speed up the tanning process.

Worryingly, 17 per cent of those surveyed think that sunburn is all part of getting a tan, with 11 per cent saying they would be prepared to burn if they did not feel sufficiently tanned towards the end of their holiday.

Cancer Research UK dermatologist Professor Lesley Rhodes says: "Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the primary cause of skin cancer and responsible for around 80 per cent of cases of melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer. In addition to the short term discomfort and impact on appearance, sunburn also causes permanent irreversible damage leading to premature ageing and significantly increases the risk of skin cancer. Put simply, the more time young people are spending in the sun, the more damage they are doing to their skin."

While the problem is particularly evident among the under 25s, 25-34 year olds also show a tendency towards 'binge tanning'. Nineteen per cent of this age bracket admit to spending over five hours in the sun, with 16 per cent saying they would increase the amount of time they spent tanning towards the end of a holiday if they do not feel tanned enough.

The survey also showed just how important tanning is to young people. Of the under 25s surveyed, 39 per cent said they would feel upset if they came back from their summer holiday without a tan.

Rebecca Russell, SunSmart campaign manager at Cancer Research UK, says: 'What's particularly worrying is the lengths young people will go to to get a tan, including burning. Sunburn can double the risk of melanoma. People who spend their summer holidays outdoors should remember to enjoy their time safely and use sun protection - shade, clothing and factor 15+ sunscreen - to reduce their risk of skin cancer.

"If you really are desperate for a tan, the best option is to fake it - it's the only way to get a tanned appearance without causing sun damage."

To enjoy being outside in the sun and reduce your risk of skin cancer, follow the SunSmart messages:

  • Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
  • Make sure you never burn
  • Aim to cover up with a T shirt, hat and sunglasses
  • Remember to take extra care with children
  • Then use factor 15 plus sunscreen
  • Also¦report mole changes or unusual skin growths promptly to your doctor
  • For information on enjoying the sun safely and skin cancer visit Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart website

    ENDS

    For more information, please contact Cancer Research UK's press office on 020 7061 8300 or the duty press officer on 07050 264 059

Notes to Editor

The survey was conducted face-to-face by BMRB omnibus in April 2008 among 576 adults aged 15-34. Results were weighted to make them nationally representative.

  • People at most risk have fair skin, lots of moles or freckles or a family history of skin cancer.
  • People should report mole changes or unusual skin growths promptly to their doctor.
  • It is the sixth year of the SunSmart campaign, commissioned by the UK’s Department of Health, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of sun protection and early detection against skin cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart campaign is funded by UK Health Departments and launched in March 2003. Members of its advisory board include representatives of the national Radiological Protection Board, British Association of Dermatologists, International Commission on Non-Ionising radiation Protection, EUROSKIN, UK Skin Cancer Working Party, British Photo dermatology Group, Wessex Cancer Trust and independent experts on vitamin D and nutrition.
  • The survey was carried out for Cancer Research UK by BMRB in April 2008 among 576 people between the ages of 15 and 34
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