Let It Burn: Most Americans Still Don't Use Sunscreen

Data from the CDC show that only 14.3 percent of men and 29.9 percent of women report they regularly use sunscreen, even when they are outside in the sun for more than an hour.

As we gather steam toward sunburn season, an analysis of research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2013 sheds lighton an age-old problem: the majority of Americans simply don’t use sunscreen to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Appearing online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the article provides some context around the 2013 CDC data, which to no one’s surprise revealed that only 14.3 percent of men and 29.9 percent of women reported that they regularly use sunscreen on both their face and other exposed skin even when they are outside in the sun for more than an hour.

The problem is particularly pronounced in men, who were much more likely to never use sunscreen. According to the study, 43.8 percent of men (compared to 27 percent of women) said they never use sunscreen on their face and 42.1 percent of men (compared to 26.8 percent of women) saying they never use it on other areas of exposed skin. The news is even worse for those with lower incomes, African Americans, and individuals whose skin is less sensitive to the sun. While people with darker have greater amounts of melanin—which contains protective pigment that gives skin its color—they can and do still get skin cancer. Because many patients, and even some physicians, believe dark-skinned people are immune to skin cancer, diagnosis is often delayed.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 3.5 million cases of basal- and squamous-cell skin cancer are diagnosed nationwide each year.

Although patients are often aware of the risks of skin cancer, they may not be fully aware of how quickly and thoroughly the sun can damage the skin. Concern about the ingredients in sunscreen is another factor in decisions not to apply protection.

Dermatologists and primary care physicians should speak to patients about the risks and ways to help prevent skin cancer. Remind patients of common-sense tips that nevertheless may be overlooked, including:

  • Conduct a monthly self-examination during which they look for lesions that bleed, don’t heal, or last longer than a month
  • Use a broad-spectrum, waterproof sunscreen of at least 30 SPF
  • Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes prior to sun exposure and re-apply when necessary
  • Carry sunscreen even if you don’t plan to be engaging in outdoor activities
  • Be aware that exposure through windows and tents is also a possibility