A recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) that included 1,000 U.S. adults discovered that 33% of Americans lack a basic comprehension of skin cancer and sun protection—such as seeking shade—that can help diminish their risk of skin cancer, the most common cancer in the U.S. Additional survey findings included the following: 47% either incorrectly believe or are unsure that having a base tan will prevent sunburns; 35% either incorrectly believe or are unsure that if you don’t burn, tanning is safe; and 31% are unaware that tanning causes skin cancer. It was also found that more than half (53%) of adults are unaware that shade can protect them from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
In the survey, Gen Z (persons born after 1996) appeared to hold the greatest misinterpretations of the dangers of sun exposure and skin cancer, followed closely by Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996). Among Gen Z survey findings were that 42% are unaware that tanning causes skin cancer; 41% are unaware that the sun’s UV rays are reflected by snow, water, and sand; and 33% are unaware that they can get sunburned on a cloudy day.

Millennial survey findings were as follows: 42% are unaware that the sun’s UV rays can penetrate clothing; 37% are unaware that tanning causes skin cancer; and 23% are unaware that sunburn heightens the risk of getting skin cancer.

Board-certified dermatologist Kenneth J. Tomecki, MD, FAAD, president of the AAD, stated, “These findings surprised us and demonstrate that misperceptions about skin cancer and sun exposure are still prevalent. As dermatologists who see firsthand the impact that skin cancer, including melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—has on our patients and their families, it’s concerning to see that so many individuals still do not understand how to protect themselves from ultraviolet exposure.”

Dr. Tomecki added, “These are striking results when it comes to younger generations’ knowledge about basic sun exposure. Gen Z and Millennials have a lifetime of potential damaging sun exposure ahead of them, so now is the time to close the knowledge gap and ensure they are aware of how easy it is to practice sun-safe behavior.”

In an effort to reduce the public’s skin cancer risk, the AAD recommends that everyone follow three simple steps when outdoors: 1) Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 AM and 2 PM; 2) 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, select clothing with a UV protection factor [UPF] number on the label; and 3) apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. The AAD also recommends reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating.

Additionally, Dr. Tomecki noted, “Since unprotected UV exposure is the most significant risk factor for skin cancer, it’s critical to protect yourself from UV light, both from the sun and indoor tanning devices. Contrary to what many people think, tanning—indoors and out—isn’t safe and can lead to skin cancer, as well as premature skin aging, like wrinkles and age spots.”

The AAD issued a statement on May 14, 2021, regarding the FDA’s recent concerning the Environmental Impact statement on certain sunscreen drug products.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

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