US Sunscreen Use Abysmally Low, Especially Among Men

Janis C. Kelly

May 19, 2015

Adults in the United States seldom used sunscreen as recommended, tended to use it only on the face, and often did not know whether their sunscreen provided broad-spectrum ultraviolet protection, according to survey results published online May 19 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

In fact, less than 15% of men and 30% of women used sunscreen as recommended, and 42% of men reported never using sunscreen. "Men may view sunscreen as nonmasculine, messy, or inconvenient, and sunscreen advertisements target women more often than men," write Dawn M. Holman, MPH, and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Men may rely on protective clothing and shade more than sunscreen, and these alternatives could be encouraged. However, there may still be times when sunscreen is necessary for adequate protection, and more research is needed to develop effective sun-safety interventions targeting men." Interestingly, men living in the Northeast were more likely to regularly use sunscreen on the face than those living in the Midwest or South.

The authors used cross-sectional data from the 2013 Summer ConsumerStyles survey to examine sunscreen use in 4033 adults. Key findings included:

  • 43.8% of men and 27.0% of women reported that they never use sunscreen on their faces;

  • 42.1% of men and 26.8% of women reported they never use sunscreen on other exposed skin;

  • 42.6% of women reported that they regularly use sunscreen on the face, but only 34.4% reported that they regularly use it on other exposed skin;

  • only 16.0% of Hispanic men reported using sunscreen on the face, and only 11.9% reported using sunscreen on other exposed skin;

  • among Hispanic women, 36.3% reported using sunscreen on the face and 25.7% reported using sunscreen on other exposed skin; and

  • almost 40%% of sunscreen users are unsure whether they use a broad-spectrum formula.

Because exposure to ultraviolet radiation is viewed as the most preventable risk factor for all types of skin cancer, including melanoma, these data have major public health implications. Mark Lebwohl, MD, president of the American Academy of Dermatology, said in a news release, "Anyone can get skin cancer, so everyone should take steps to protect themselves from the sun. The Academy recommends everyone choose a sunscreen with a label that states it is broad-spectrum, has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and is water-resistant.

"Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against both [ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B] rays, both of which can cause cancer. Recent sunscreen regulations implemented by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration make it easier for consumers to see on the sunscreen label whether the product is broad-spectrum."

The study authors note that their results are consistent with previous data showing that sunscreen use is low among non-Hispanic blacks and those who tend not to sunburn. They write, "These groups may have a lower perceived susceptibility to sun damage and need guidance on balancing the risks and benefits of sun exposure, given the variation in susceptibility even within racial/ethnic groups."

Lead author Dawn M. Holman, MPH, commented in a press release, "Using sunscreen can reduce your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging, but it shouldn't be your only line of defense against the sun. It's best to combine sunscreen with other forms of sun protection. Communities can help with strategies like providing shade in outdoor areas, which can make it easier for individuals to stay sun-safe while enjoying the outdoors."

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

J Am Acad Dermatol. Published online May 19, 2015. Abstract

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