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Study: Risk of skin cancer remains high for college students in winter

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College students could be just as vulnerable to developing skin cancer during the winter months as they are in the summer, a new study by Brigham Young University finds. (Photo: Nate Edwards / BYU Photo){ }

College students are just as vulnerable to developing skin cancer during the winter months as they are in the summer, a new study by Brigham Young University finds.

The study, published in the latest issue of The Journal of the Dermatology Nurses' Association, discovered young people hardly use sunscreen and use tanning beds "far too often, with a significant uptick in colder months."

Only 9% of students surveyed use sunscreen and tanning bed usage, especially among men, surges in the winter. According to a news release, studies have shown that more than 50% of college students use tanning beds. Tanning beds use ultraviolet radiation, which is known to damage skin. People who use tanning beds before 35 increase their risk of melanoma by 75%, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Tanning beds and a lack of sunscreen, combined with an increase in exposure to ultraviolet rays reflecting off snow and ice, can make winter a devastating time for skin.

“The worst sunburn I ever got was when I went skiing and didn’t put on sunscreen,” senior study author Katreena Merrill, a BYU professor of nursing, is quoted in a news release.

Many people think they will be fine in the winter, but it’s just as important to protect yourself in the winter sun as it is the summer sun.

RELATED: Yes, your eyes can get sunburn too, so protect them

The study also analyzed protective behaviors by phenotypic risk, associated with skin types that contain different amounts of melanin. Melano-compromised individuals, often those with fairer skin and red hair, lack melanin and are at the highest risk of developing skin cancer, a news release stated.

Researchers discovered that fair-skinned students are no more likely to wear sunscreen as their lower-risk friends and are just as likely to go tanning.

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70, and having five or more sunburns doubles the risk for melanoma, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. A study released earlier this year ranked states by highest incidence of melanoma, the worst kind of skin cancer. Utah was near the top of that list.

After completing the study, Merrill suggested young college students use sunscreen year-round, wear hats and clothing protection, and avoid tanning beds.

“There is something you can do and something you cannot do,” she said.


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