According to a recent study led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, most people in the United States do not regularly use sunscreen to protect against ultraviolet (UV) radiation, a serious risk factor for the development of all kinds of skin cancer.
The study entitled “Patterns of sunscreen use on the face and other exposed skin among US adults” analyzed the results of a survey conducted in 2013 assessing sunscreen use in subjects exposed to sun radiation for periods longer that an hour. The conclusions revealed that only 14.3% of men and 29.9% of women regularly use sunscreen on their faces and other exposed parts of the body.
The results also demonstrated that women apply more sunscreen on their face (42.6%) than other parts of the body exposed to the sun (34.4%). This discrepancy is not so visible in men, with 18.1% of the subjects applying sunscreen on their face compared to 19.9% of men who apply protection in the remaining exposed skin.
“Women may be more likely to use sunscreen on the face because of the anti-aging benefits, or because of the many cosmetic products on the market that contain sunscreen,” stated behavioral scientist at the CDC and study lead author, Dawn Holman, MPH. “However, it’s important to protect your whole body from the sun, not just your face.”
Men are, however, more likely to never use sunscreen when compared to women, while general use is especially weak in people with lower incomes, non-Hispanic blacks and people with less sun-sensitive skin. In addition, over 80% of survey participants said they used 15 SPF or higher while 60% reported using a broad-spectrum formula.
“Anyone can get skin cancer, so everyone should take steps to protect themselves from the sun,” advised board-certified dermatologist Mark Lebwohl, MD, FAAD, who is also the president of the American Academy of Dermatology. “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 UVA and UVB 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,” added Lebwohl, as the academy released five recommendations towards an efficient use of sunscreen.
The academy advises everyone to use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, applying it at least 15 minutes prior to solar exposure. Moreover, people should protect their entire body, including often forgotten areas such as ears, scalp, tops of the feet and legs. Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.
“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,” explained Holman. “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 academy provides additional tips on sun protection, including seeking shade particularly between 10 am and 2 pm and wear protective cloths whenever possible, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. The academy also recommends additional attention near the water, sand or snow, as these surfaces reflect and intensify UV rays.
“One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. The best way to reduce your skin cancer risk is to protect yourself from UV exposure,” remembered Lebwohl.