20% of Gen Z adults say getting a tan is 'more important' to them than preventing skin cancer. Experts weigh in — and they're concerned.

20% of Gen Z adults say getting a tan is 'more important' to them than preventing skin cancer. Experts weigh in — and they're concerned.


"There is no such thing as a healthy tan if your tan is from a tanning bed or exposure to the sun," one dermatologist tells Yahoo Life.


Most Gen Z adults ages 18 to 25 are unaware of the risks of sunburn and some believe outdated myths about tanning, according to a new survey from the American Academy of Dermatology.


The survey of more than 1,000 Gen Z adults revealed that 71% of them are unaware of the risks associated with sunburn. Thirty-six percent reported having a sunburn in 2022, and 41% of those said the sunburn was severe enough that it made wearing clothes uncomfortable.


Nearly 60% of those surveyed also believed old tanning myths, such as that tanning is healthy and that a base tan will prevent sunburn. Even those who may know that tanning is harmful aren't necessarily willing to give that up and practice sun safety. The survey found that 20% of Gen Z adults reported that getting a tan is "more important" to them than preventing skin cancer, while 30% admitted that "it's worth looking great now even if it means looking worse later in life," according to the survey.


Experts aren't entirely surprised by this. "I think it is a commonly repeated trend with each generation: The younger people in their teens and 20s feel invincible and don't think that it 'will happen to them,'" Dr. Jeremy Fenton, dermatologist and medical director at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York, tells Yahoo Life. "They also tend to worry less about things that may happen to them in the distant future. This is in part just normal human nature. Therefore, I am not entirely surprised that these statistics show that they are not as concerned about sun protection."


That said, Fenton adds that he would have expected this generation to be "more aware of sun safety and the risks of excessive sun exposure than prior generations at the same age. The data quoted above doesn't compare to past generations at the same age, so it's hard to say if things are getting better or worse."


Dr. Jennifer Holman, a dermatologist in Texas and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, says that most teenagers and young adults don't often think about the long-term consequences of their decisions — and that includes sun exposure. "As a mother of three teenagers I can certainly speak to that," Holman tells Yahoo Life. "While we are seeing fewer young adults and teenagers using tanning beds, the education around sun safety doesn't always resonate. When I speak to younger patients about the risks of sunburns and tanning, they often listen more when I speak about the cosmetic consequences, as 'skin cancer' doesn't seem like it can affect them."


Part of the problem is that wearing sunscreen and protecting yourself from the sun is a preventative behavior without immediate benefits, explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, associate professor of dermatology and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "It can be difficult to motivate people to prevent something from possibly happening in the future when they are living in the present," he tells Yahoo Life. "Generally speaking, people live in disbelief that something like skin cancer will happen to them until it is too late."


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