Irish teenage boys soak up the rays almost as much as girls
Calls for ban on sunbeds for under-18s as teenage boys, under pressure to sport a tan, put their health at risk
Some 59% of teenagers regard sunbeds as a good treatment for acne. Photograph: Thinkstock
Teenage boys are using sunbeds almost as regularly as girls, according to the results of a study designed to assess sunbed usage, sunburn history and sun-protection habits among Irish 15-17 year olds.
The study shows that 53 per cent of teenage sunbed users are female and 47 per cent are male, bucking trends in Europe and the US where sunbed users are predominantly female.
“One of the most startling findings is the heavy use of sunbeds among young males,” says clinical nurse specialist Selene Daly, who is calling for tailored sun-awareness education for this cohort. She is based at Sligo Regional Hospital and carried out the research with colleagues, consultant dermatologist Dr Dermot McKenna and registrar Dr Miriam Fitzgerald.
Daly says in the course of the study, she was struck by how much boys are influenced by the images they are bombarded with through social media and on popular television programmes.
“They feel pressurised to look a certain way, and body-building, teeth-whitening and eyebrow-shaping are all part of the package, along with tanning,” she says.
“Health professionals need to be aware that boys are now as susceptible to this pressure as girls. We also need to be more social-media savvy because teenagers are being bombarded with video messages every minute of the day on their phones and laptops.”
The study, conducted in nine post-primary schools in Dublin and Sligo, also shows that students in the capital are much more likely to use sunbeds than their rural counterparts, and that usage is much higher in non-fee-paying than in fee-paying schools.
It has prompted calls for the immediate implementation of the proposed ban on sunbeds for under-18s.
Among Dublin students, 11.2 per cent have used sunbeds, compared with just over 4 per cent of Sligo teenagers.
The researchers pointed out that anyone who uses a sunbed before the age of 35 increases their risk of developing malignant melanoma in later life by 75 per cent, and that any exposure to sunbeds gives a 65 per cent higher risk of squamous cell carcinoma.
The study showed that a majority of teenagers either go to tanning shops or use rented sunbeds at home, and some use them in beauty parlours and leisure centres.
Daly says the researchers were shocked that 65 per cent of teenagers thought sunbeds were a good way to create a base for a tan before going on holidays, and 59 per cent regarded sunbeds as a good treatment for acne. “Dermatologists strongly feel that sunbeds are unsuitable for acne treatment and, in some cases, can make the condition worse,” she says. “Having an existing tan does not offer any protection against skin damage, but does increase the chance of developing skin cancer.”
An overwhelming 91 per cent of the respondents admitted that they have been sunburned, with 47 per cent saying they have been burned up to five times and 42 per cent five to 10 times. One student has been sunburned more than 20 times.
Only 30.4 per cent of the respondents apply sunscreen regularly during the summer in Ireland, although 66.5 per cent apply it regularly during sun holidays.
The study of 591 students (288 female and 303 male) was carried out in four Dublin schools last January and February, and at five post-primary schools in Co Sligo from March to May last year. The respondents included 348 Dublin students and 243 Sligo students.