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Experts give health warnings to teenagers, who incorrectly believe a tan is healthy

Lydia Pedrana, November 25, 2018 7:55PM The Daily Telegraph

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Runner applying sunscreen. Picture: iStock media_cameraRunner applying sunscreen. Picture: iStock


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Most teenagers incorrectly believe that a tan is healthy, sparking health warnings from cancer doctors.

New statistics released by the Cancer Council this week show an alarming 62 per cent of children aged between 12 and 17 say their friends think a tan is a good thing. Worryingly, this statistic is up 2 per cent from last year. The Cancer Council is a national, non-profit public health organisation.

Young females seem to be the most at risk of sun damage with 43 per cent saying they prefer to have tanned skin.

Health professionals are hoping to quash* the myth* that a tan is healthy, and spread the warning that it’s actually a sign that skin cells are in trauma*.

SA teenagers (l-r) Zandalo Sheldon, 16 years old, of Myrtle Bank, Justin Tothill, 18 years old, and Jess Christo, 15 years old, of Adelaide sunbathing on towels at Glenelg Beach, SA. media_cameraSouth Australian teenagers (l-r) Zandalo, Justin and Jess sunbathing at Glenelg Beach.

The new statistics are particularly concerning given Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. In fact, around two out of three people will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they reach 70 years old. In 2013 more than 2200 Australians died from skin cancer.

With summer almost here, experts are desperate to warn teens about the dangers of sun bathing.

Leading Sydney skin cancer doctor Associate Professor Anthony Joshua from St Vincent’s Hospital described the findings as “alarming” and stressed that “the only good tan is no tan.”

“We now know that even incidental* sun exposure can cause accumulating mutations* in the skin and there’s no good reason to purposely get a tan,” Professor Joshua explained.

AFL-sunny media_cameraAFLW Melbourne Demons player Melissa Hickey and Western Bulldogs premiership captain Easton Wood wearing zinc on their faces. Picture: Yuri Kouzmin

“It’s alarming that the philosophy* is still out there despite the efforts that “Slip, Slop Slap” and other marketing campaigns have tried to change. We need to re-engage with our youth to reinforce the message of the dangers of skin cancers, especially melanomas*, in Australia.”

Child and adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg believes there are three reasons why teenagers ignore the warning signs.

“A unique characteristic of teenage brains is an inability to predict the consequences of their actions. Secondly, social media says that tans are sexy and hot, and thirdly teenagers are massively influenced by their peers.”

Tanning danger - LAuriston Girls School media_cameraPhoebe, Sophie and Ariial know the importance of slip-slop-slap rather than trying to get a tan. Picture: Rob Leeson

Advertising expert Dee Madigan agrees that teens are easily influenced and that’s why the information about the dangers of tanning aren’t getting through.

“The advertising messages aren’t getting through because all the people that teens look up to, like the influencers on social media and the models in magazines, are tanned … What they’re not realising is that these models wouldn’t be silly enough to lay in the sun because they know what it does to their skin,” Ms Madigan said.

“I fake tan most weeks and I’m worried about the messages I’m sending to my own daughter.”

Fashion woman with straw hat at beach media_cameraWearing hats can help protect you from the sun. Picture: iStock

Meanwhile, CEO of the Cancer Council Australia, Professor Sanchia Aranda, has called on the government to invest in a public awareness campaign to help filter the message through to young people.

“There has been no national investment in skin cancer public awareness by the government in more than a decade, but we know when it does occur, behaviours are altered,” Professor Aranda said.

“We see a greater awareness of risk and higher levels of sun protection, as well as a declining desire for a tan in our young people.”

VIDEO: This is the original Slip Slop Slap TV ad from 1980, which was very successful in helping people understand the importance of being sun smart to prevent skin cancer


Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide are the best ways to protect yourself from skin cancer.

Slip on sun-protective clothing that covers as much of your body as possible;

Slop on sunscreen that is water resistant and at least SPF20+ 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours;

Slap on a hat that covers your face, neck, head and ears;

Seek shade; and

Slide on sunglasses that meet Australian sun-protection standards.

Source: Cancer Council


What happens when you get sunburnt?

How to use sunscreen correctly

Kids need to learn cooking schools

Push to scrap compulsory helmets


quash: put an end to

myth: widely believed untruth

trauma: physical injury

incidental: happening as a result of something else (going outside to play sport and happen to get a tan, rather than going outside to get a tan)

mutations: change structure to something abnormal, as in cells mutating when they are exposed to sun, which can lead to skin cancer

philosophy: system of thinking or beliefs

melanomas: a tumour of melanin-forming cells, also called skin cancers



1. What percentage of teens 12-17 think tanning is a good thing?

2. What is a tan a sign of?

3. How many Australians died from skin cancer in 2013?

4. List the three reasons teens ignore the health warnings?

5. Why does Ms Madigan worry about applying fake tan?


Are the statistics in this article about the number of 12-17-year-old children not getting the message about the dangers of tanning true for the students in your class/school? (You can complete a survey even if the students in your class/school don’t fit in this age range.)

Work out what questions you will need to ask. Complete the survey and collate your results. Convert the raw data to percentages to see if they match the statistics in the article.

Time: Allow 40 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Health and Physical Education, Mathematics

Extension: Unfortunately, the message about being sun safe has not convinced the teenagers of today that tanning their skin is unsafe. Child and adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg believes there are a few reasons why the message is not getting through. Take note of these reasons and the information that may convince them.

How can you convince your peers that tanning is an unsafe practice? Come up with a way to get the message across to your peers. Use the information in the article to help work out the best way to do this.

Think about …

What method will you use? Print media (magazine, newspaper, poster)? A post on social media? Radio or television advertisement? Or another way to communicate this important message?

What information will you include to convince them?

Where/when will you place/deliver the advertisement/information?

When you have thought through these things, create your advertisement and present it to your intended audience

Time: Allow 60 minutes

Curriculum links: English, The Arts — Media Arts, Health and Physical Education

Extra resources: Access to multimedia equipment (such as video and/or audio recorder) for those that choose to create an advertisement this way.


After reading the article, with a partner, highlight all the openers you can find in blue. Discuss if they are powerful and varied openers or not. Why do you think the journalists has used a mix of simple and power openers? Would you change any, and why?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Are you good at protecting yourself from skin cancer? How could you improve your sun protection this summer? Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No one-word answers.

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