In a 2004 survey of youths aged 11-18, only 39% reported regularly using sunscreen when outdoors on sunny days for at least an hour.
That is up from 31% in 1998. Still, more than six in 10 teens didn't use sunscreen regularly in the most recent survey.
That news is reported by American Cancer Society's Vilma Cokkinides, PhD, and colleagues, in Pediatrics.
Data came from phone surveys of 11- to 18-year-olds in 1998 and again in 2004. Nearly 1,200 participated in the 1998 survey; about 1,600 in the 2004 poll. Most respondents were white.
Questions on both surveys focused on tans and suncare habits.
Based on the results, the researchers see much room for improvement. They stress the need to adopt good suncare habits at an early age, since sun damage early in life raises risk later on.
Lots of Burns
Sunscreen use was teens' most common form of sun protection. Fewer teens said they stayed in shade or wore hats, long pants, or long-sleeved shirts. Those findings didn't change between surveys.
Recent summer sunburns held steady, hovering around 70% in both surveys.
Reported sunburns did drop among younger participants (those aged 11-15). That "may be cause for optimism," the researchers note.
Teens and Tans
Teens' tanning views were similar in both surveys.
In 2004, more than two-thirds agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "I look better when I have a tan" (nearly 68%, compared with 71% in 1998).
Also in 2004, more than half the teens agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "I feel healthy when I have a nice tan (55%, compared to 53% in 1998).
The small differences in teen tanning opinions in 1998 and 2004 might simply be due to chance. The bottom line: Most still prefer tans.
Slip! Slop! Slap!
U.S. teens seem to need encouragement to get sun smart, note the researchers.
They applaud Australia's public education campaign, called "Slip! Slop! Slap!"
That's short for "Slip on a shirt; slop on some sunscreen; and slap on a hat," write Cokkinides and colleagues.
Now days, tans don't just come from the sun. Self-tanning lotions and bronzing cosmetics can deliver the golden look without sun exposure.
The surveys didn't ask teens whether they'd be satisfied with a tan from a bottle.