Teens & Skin Cancer: Understanding the Risks, Prevention, & Early Detection

As a dermatologist, I strongly advocate for the prevention of skin cancer. One demographic that is often overlooked when it comes to skin cancer prevention is teenagers. This age group may not feel the immediate effects of sun damage but overexposure to UV rays during the teenage years is linked to increased risks of skin cancer later in life. As summer approaches, it is essential to educate teenagers on the risks, prevention, and early detection of skin cancer.

The Risks:

Most teenagers feel invincible and may not realize the risks associated with overexposure to UV rays. Sunburns, tans, and skin damage may not seem like a big deal during the teenage years, but they can lead to skin cancer in the future. Teenagers with fair skin, light eyes, and blonde or red hair are more prone to skin cancer. Additionally, teenagers who have had severe sunburns in the past are at a high risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Therefore, it is essential to educate teenagers on the risks of skin cancer and how they can protect themselves from it.


Prevention is the key when it comes to skin cancer. Here are a few tips for teenagers to prevent skin cancer:

  • Wear protective clothing like wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts.
  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours if outside for extended periods, and after sweating or swimming.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunbathing.
  • Seek shade during peak sun hours (10 am to 4 pm).
  • Wear sunglasses to protect the eyes from UV rays.

Start GREAT Habits Early, with great quality sunscreens.

It’s never too early to start protecting your skin from the sun. Even before their teen years, it is important to create sun protection habits in children and teach them how to choose a good mineral-based sunscreen. This will help protect them from the long-term effects of UV rays and reduce their risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Here are some tips for creating sun protection habits and choosing a good mineral-based sunscreen for kids:

1. Look for an all-mineral sunscreen:

All-mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients. These ingredients physically block the sun’s rays from penetrating the skin, making them highly effective at preventing sunburns and reducing the risk of skin cancer.

2. Check the SPF level:

Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or higher. This will provide adequate protection against both UVA and UVB rays. However, keep in mind that higher SPF levels don’t necessarily mean better protection.

3. Check for broad-spectrum protection:

Sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection will protect your child’s skin from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are responsible for skin aging and wrinkles, while UVB rays cause sunburns. Both UVA and UVB rays contribute to the development of skin cancer. It’s important to protect against both types of rays to reduce the risk of skin damage and cancer.

4. Avoid fragranced or perfumed products:

Choose a sunscreen that is free of fragrance or perfume. These chemicals can cause skin irritation and rash as well as other health concerns.

5. Consider the texture:

Choose a mineral-based sunscreen that feels comfortable on your child’s skin. Lotions are generally good for most skin types, but if your child has sensitive skin, you may want to choose a cream or stick.

By choosing the right mineral-based sunscreen and following good sun protection habits, you can help protect your child’s skin from damage and lower their risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Remember, starting great sun protection habits at an early age is crucial for long-term skin health.

Early Detection is KEY with Skin cancer:

Early detection is crucial in the fight against skin cancer. Here are some warning signs everyone should look out for regardless of age:

  • A mole or freckle that changes in color, shape, or size
  • A new growth or sore that doesn’t heal
  • A sore that bleeds or itches
  • A patch of skin that becomes scaly or crusty

If anyone notices any of these warning signs, they should consult a dermatologist immediately. Early detection is the key to a successful recovery.

Set the example: Your role is important too!

Parents and guardians can play a pivotal role in educating teenagers on the risks of skin cancer. By practicing sun safety themselves and encouraging teenagers to do the same, they set a positive example. Parents can also ensure that they have regular check-ups with their local dermatologist to detect any early warning signs of skin cancer.

Preventing skin cancer in teenagers is a critical part of overall skin cancer prevention efforts. As a dermatologist, I urge teenagers to practice sun safety and educate themselves on the risks of skin cancer. Remember, prevention is easier than cure, and early detection can save lives. By working together, we can lower the risks of skin cancer and promote healthy, glowing skin.

About the Author

Dr. Pickett completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.  She received her medical degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, where she was inducted into the prestigious Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.  Dr. Pickett completed her internship and dermatology residency training at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.  During her residency, she participated in research regarding the side effects of novel targeted therapies for cancer and was selected as a resident representative to the Board of Directors of the Women’s Dermatologic Society.  In addition, Dr. Pickett served as Chief Resident in her final year of training.

Dr. Pickett is passionate about patient care and stays up to date on medical research and new therapies for skin disease.  Her work has been published in many peer-reviewed medical journals and presented at numerous academic conferences.

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