Since 1986, people have been informed that they get about 80% of their lifetime ultraviolet (UV) dose by the age of 18. This belief originated from the mathematical conclusion that diligent use of sunscreens (sun protection factor 15 or higher) during the first 18 years of life would reduce the lifetime incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancers by 78%. These data were misconstrued to mean that individuals also got about 80% of their lifetime dose of UV by the age of 18 (linear relationship). However, these calculations were based on the incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancers being related to the square of the UV dose. Careful analysis of UV exposure data shows that Americans actually get less than 25% of their lifetime UV dose by the age of 18. This finding also appears to be true worldwide because Australia, UK and The Netherlands report a similar UV exposure pattern. UV-initiated damage early in life can be promoted by subsequent exposures to progress into tumors later in life. For example, the nonmelanoma skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, is dependent on the cumulative UV dose. Thus, a better educational approach for reducing skin cancers would be to instruct fair-skinned individuals to protect themselves throughout their lives from being exposed to too much UV radiation.
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