Most Americans are not using sunscreen regularly to protect their skin from damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, according to new survey results. About 30 percent of women and less than 15 percent of men use sunscreen regularly on the face and other exposed areas of the skin, the survey said.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was published online May 19 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
If used correctly, sunscreen products can help prevent certain skin cancers, including melanoma. It is recommended to use broad spectrum sunscreen products that filter both UVB and UVA radiation and have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
The results coincide with previous studies that show that sun protection is low in American adults. But the survey also revealed information on how sun protection is used. Some adults, especially women, use sunscreen regularly on the face but not on other exposed areas of the skin, the survey said.
Women may be more likely to wear sunscreen on their face due to anti-aging effects or because many cosmetic products contain sunscreens, noted Dawn Holman, MPH, a behavioral scientist at CDC and lead author of the study. “However, it is important to protect the body from the sun, not just your face.”
The survey also indicated that sunscreen use is low among non-Hispanic blacks and those whose skin tends not to be sunburned.
“These groups may have a lower perception of the risk of sun damage and need guidance on how to offset the risks and benefits of sun exposure given the variation in risk even within racial and ethnic groups,” the study authors wrote. As previously reported, men tend to use sunscreen less often than women, and many do not even wear it.
Men see sunscreen as “not masculine, unpleasant or uncomfortable,” the authors wrote. More research is needed to design effective sun protection interventions targeting men, the researchers added.
The study also revealed a consistent relationship between sunscreen use and family income. For both men and women in the study, sunscreen use was significantly lower among those with lower family income. “These results seem to indicate that the cost of sunscreen may be an obstacle to its regular use,” Holman said.
One way to begin to address this cost situation is for communities to play a role in promoting sun protection, Holman said. “For example, communities can provide ways to protect themselves from the sun in outdoor recreation sites and this can make it easier for people to be protected from the sun while enjoying outdoor activities,” she said.
The study, which received responses from more than 4000 adults, had limitations, the researchers noted, such as the use of self-reports by participants and lack of information on reapplication of sunscreen and other forms of sun protection.
“Using a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher can reduce your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging,” Holman said. “But sunscreen should not be your only line of defense against the sun. It’s best to combine sunscreen with other forms of sun protection and make sure to protect all exposed skin-not just your face.”
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