Young Teens Getting Too Many Rays
Children as young as 12 and 13 are showing signs of sun-damaged skin, say researchers who used specialized imaging technology to evaluate youngsters' UV exposure. This heavy dose of UV could raise their risk for melanoma skin cancer later in life.
The images confirm what dermatologists have long said about skin cancer: People with blue eyes, red hair, fair skin, or many moles are at higher risk for melanoma.
The study, published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, looked at 585 boys and girls who were 11 or 12 years old at the beginning of the study. Almost 80 percent were non-Hispanic white youths.
The faces of all the children were photographed with eyes closed and without sunscreen, make-up, or moisturizer in three formats: standard photography, cross-polarized photography that used filters to block unwanted light reflection, and UV photography.
At the same time, a dermatology team did full-body skin exams. The team noted eye, skin, and hair color, as well as any freckling.
UV photography makes visible "mottled pigmentation," or the dark spots and freckling that show sun damage but that can't be seen by the naked eye. Those children with blue eyes, red hair, fair skin, or many moles showed greater skin damage on the UV photographs.
Study co-author Robert Dellavalle, M.D., at the University of Colorado, says that the specialized photography could help drive home to teens the importance of limiting their UV exposure.
"There's nothing better for keeping teenagers out of the tanning booth than showing these pics," Dr. Dellavalle says. "What we didn't know before was if these ugly pics were just ugly pics that scare people, or if they actually correlated with skin cancer. Now we've found that they do."
One drawback to using this technology is its price. Currently, such systems cost about $20,000. But if the price could be reduced, the technology might eventually be used as a screening tool for sun damage.
"I've used UV photography myself during clinical research, and it certainly is a very dramatic way to show sun damage," says David Pariser, M.D., past president of the American Academy of Dermatology. "It's sort of like looking at yourself 15 or 20 years later. In fact, I've never had anyone who's seen a photograph of himself who's not reacted by saying they will stop exposing themselves to the harmful effects of the sun."
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