A young person with a fashionable bracelet and manicure holds a phone, which shows a woman shouting out to raise awareness.

Millennials! Gen Z! Listen up!

Millennials, otherwise known as Generation Y, are defined as being born roughly between 1981 and 1996. They are followed by their younger counterparts, Generation Z, born after 1997. According to the date ranges, I am a Gen X baby, born in 1974, and my mom is a Baby Boomer. Despite generation gaps, we do have many things in common. One of them happens to be the love of tanning and how highly many value a nice dark, even tan in the summer. Gen X, however, can tell the others that a tan was never worth it.

Baby boomers and sun practices

Baby Boomers worshipped the sun and passed that love on to us Gen Xers. We followed suit; slathered on the baby oil, spritzed lemon juice in our hair, and perched ourselves in the sun at high noon telling ourselves that the inevitable sunburn would turn into a tan. Whether we were fair or olive-skinned, we mimicked what we saw our parents do. If they didn’t wear sunscreen, we didn’t. If they did yard work in direct sunlight in tank tops and cut-offs, we did. If they complained about being too pale, we began to place a high value on tan skin and turned our noses up at any pale legs and bodies that didn’t show tan lines.

Baby boomers and skin cancer

Something happened over the years though. Baby Boomers started receiving skin cancer diagnoses - basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Suspicious and irregular moles were checked and biopsied and the surgeries to remove cancerous lesions started in full force. In my case, the damage was already done. My little section of Gen X had already become fastidious tanners and even joined in the tanning bed craze of the 1990s by the time our parents were receiving their cancer diagnoses. We had already baked, fried, and scorched our skin so many times that our sun damage was imminent. We were on a fast-track to the same diagnoses as our parents.

Passing down lessons learned about skin cancer

Here’s where we differ so greatly from Millenials and Gen Z: we didn’t have anyone telling us not to tan. We just weren’t aware of the dangers and had no idea how useful sunscreen could be in protecting us from skin cancer and premature aging. To put it simply, we did what we saw and are now paying the price.

Millennials and Gen Z, well, they have us. Yeah, I know. They don’t want to admit we might know a thing or two. Let’s face it, we all thought the same thing - "Our parents just don’t get it, and can’t tell us what we should do.” Oh, but we do get it. We got this for sure. We increased our chances of developing skin cancer - the gift that keeps on giving - by worshipping the sun and using tanning beds. We got age spots in our 30s and multiple scars from cryosurgery and excisions to prove exactly how much we “got it.”

Let's help inform a sun-smart generation

We hear a lot about breaking cycles of negative behavior. This is one cycle that really can stop with us. Gen Xers have the experience of knowing what it’s like to value a tan and then, in turn, paying the price for that vanity. We can, and should, be able to turn that experience into a huge life lesson for our kids and grandkids. Gen Xers didn’t have the advantage of this kind of advice, but we sure as shootin’ can hand it down to the Millenials and their babies. Creating a new generation of sun-smart kids starts with us!

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