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Risky activity 'invincible' Gen Z admit they love despite experts' dire warning

We know being sun safe is important, but a growing number of young people still appear to hold the belief that skin cancer won't affect them

"There's nothing healthy about a tan" — it's a slogan etched into the minds of a generation, but even still, Australia has the highest melanoma rates in the world, and in fact by age 70, two out of three of us will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer.

We know Aussies love the sun. Taking your togs down to the beach on a scorching hot day is synonymous with summer, but how many of us put on sunscreen every single time? And how many reapply after taking the first dip? The data would suggest very few.

A growing number of young people still appear to hold the belief that skin cancer won't affect them. Worryingly, new data conducted by Cancer Council Australia has revealed that almost one in three young Australians (31 per cent) think "it’s fine to suntan at their age".

Young Aussies admit to ditching sunscreen

Tilly Dawson, 23, is one of these young people. Dawson said although she applies a daily SPF "to minimise wrinkles", she would avoid products that had a higher sun protection factor, due to the belief it might "stop me from getting a tan".

Tilly Dawson, 23, admitted she doesn't use suncream as much as recommended. Source: Supplied
Tilly Dawson, 23, admitted she doesn't use suncream as much as recommended. Source: Supplied

Dawson's not alone, with one new study suggesting 50 per cent of young people sit in the sun just to tan, while 37 per cent said they intentionally do not use sunscreen for tanning benefits.

In addition, just 43 per cent of Aussies more generally knew what SPF even stands for (sun protection factor), while half of respondents in the survey, conducted by skin care specialists La Roche-Posay, said they've never had their skin checked.

"Personally for me, and a lot of people I know, we know that it's bad for you [tanning] — but we do it anyway," Dawson told Yahoo News Australia. "It's like eating junk food or smoking, you know it's naughty, but you're still willing to compartmentalise it."

A woman reading in the sun at a beach.
Almost half of young people in a recent survey said they didn't know what SPF stood for. Source: Getty

'It won't affect me', young people say

Dawson explained that while she does make some effort to apply sunblock at the beach "on really hot days" she knows she could be doing better to adhere health advice, but she, along with many in her circle, simply feel that skin cancer "won't affect me".

"Even though, logically, we know that it's bad for you," she said. "I think a lot of young people feel a bit invincible, and they probably think like, 'that's not that's not going to happen to me'."

We know that spray tanning is one way that people can appear bronzed without the harmful effects of a real tan and Dawson said that she does use fake tanning products although, "it's not to do with staying out of the sun — it's just because it's instant".

Data says older Aussies at risk, too

While the tanning trend does appear to be more skewed toward the younger generation, older Aussies also have admitted they have some work of their own to do.

According to La Roche-Posay, under half of Baby Boomer respondents apply sunscreen to their face daily and a quarter don't pay attention to the SPF number at all. But the data suggested only three per cent of Boomers have ever used a solarium, while 30 per cent of Gen Z admitted to the habit.

An older couple at the beach tanning themselves.
Under half of Boomers apply sunscreen to their face daily. A quarter don't pay attention to the SPF number at all, according to a recent survey. Source: Getty

New campaign launched

Last week, the federal government announced a $7.3 million campaign in conjunction with Cancer Council Australia to ‘End the Trend’ of suntanning.

Skin cancers cost our health system around $1.9 billion each year and one person dies from the disease every six hours. Health Minister Mark Butler said "young people think they’re bullet proof".

"That’s certainly the case when it comes to skin cancer," he said. "They think it won’t happen to them, but the sad fact is — it can. It is one of Australia’s most common cancers but it’s also one of the most preventable."

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