That is what many Americans believe. In a recent survey completed by the American Academy of Dermatology, most Americans say sun protection is more important now than five years ago, yet many misunderstand how to protect themselves. And there’s still a lot most of them don’t know about how to protect themselves from the sun and the risks of sun exposure, including skin cancer —the most common cancer in the U.S.
According to the survey, 62% of respondents gave themselves an overall grade of excellent or good for sun protection in 2021, yet 63% reported getting a tan, an increase of nine percentage points from 54% in 2020. One-third of respondents (33%) reported getting a sunburn, an increase of eight percentage points from 25% in 2020.
“If you are getting a tan, you are definitely not doing a good job of protecting yourself from the sun,” said board-certified dermatologist Mark D. Kaufmann MD, FAAD, president of the AAD. “There is no such thing as a safe tan. Every time you tan or burn, you are also damaging the DNA in your skin. The more you damage your DNA, the greater your risk of getting skin cancer.”
Despite respondents giving themselves high marks for sun protection, the survey also revealed that the public still has a lot to learn and do to protect themselves from the sun and reduce their risk of skin cancer. The survey found:
- 67% incorrectly believe that SPF 30 sunscreen offers twice as much protection as SPF 15 sunscreen.
- 65% say they often forget to reapply sunscreen.
- 43% are unaware that shade protects a person from UV rays.
Understanding what SPF measures and the difference between SPF numbers is an important step in sun protection. A sunscreen’s SPF number indicates how much UVB light (the burning rays) a sunscreen can filter out. While a sunscreen with an SPF 15 filters out 93% of the sun’s UVB rays, a sunscreen with an SPF 30 filters out 97% of the sun’s UVB rays.
“If you use sunscreen to protect yourself, it’s essential that you use it correctly or it will not protect you from sunburn, skin aging, and skin cancer,” said Dr. Kaufmann. “That means applying enough sunscreen to cover all skin not covered by clothing, which is typically 1 ounce — or enough to fill a shot glass, and reapply your sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.”
To protect yourself from the sun and reduce your risk of skin cancer, the AAD recommends that everyone:
- Seek shade. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow appears to be shorter than you are, seek shade.
- Wear sun-protective clothing, such as a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible. For more effective protection, choose clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on the label.
- Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Broad-spectrum sunscreen provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
“It’s great that 82% of respondents say protecting their skin from the sun is more important to them now than it was five years ago,” said Dr. Kaufmann. “However, it’s important that people use sun protection now so they can prevent premature skin aging and reduce their risk of skin cancer before they start seeing the damaging effects of the sun on their skin.”
Current estimates indicate that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. This year, there will be an estimated 99,780 new cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, and an estimated 7,650 people will die from this skin cancer.
“As we head into summer, it’s important that the public practices safe sun to reduce their risk of skin cancer,” said Dr. Kaufmann. “If you have any questions about how to protect yourself from the sun or notice new or suspicious spots on your skin or any spots that are changing, itching or bleeding, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.”