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May is Skin-Cancer Awareness Month, and it couldn’t come at a better time, especially this year. With the weather heating up—and the pandemic receding into history—you’re probably ready to get back into the swing of your favorite outdoor activities, be they hiking, biking, surfing, gardening, or grilling. But how much to you really know about practicing sun safety?
In a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. adults, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) found that one-third of Americans lack a basic understanding of skin cancer and sun protection that can help reduce their risk of skin cancer, the most common cancer in the U.S. Among the findings, more than half (53 percent) of adults were unaware that shade can protect them from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
Additional survey findings include:
- 47% either incorrectly believe or are unsure that having a base tan will prevent sunburns.
- 35% either incorrectly believe or are unsure that as long as you don’t burn, tanning is safe.
- 31% are unaware that tanning causes skin cancer.
“These findings surprised us and demonstrate that misperceptions about skin cancer and sun exposure are still prevalent,” says board-certified dermatologist Kenneth J. Tomecki, MD, FAAD, president of the AAD. “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.”
To help reduce your risk of skin cancer, the AAD recommends following three simple steps when outdoors:
- Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- 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 sun protection, select 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. Remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
“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,” says Tomecki. “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.”
In the survey, Gen Z (those born after 1996) appeared to have the biggest misunderstanding of the dangers of sun exposure and skin cancer, followed closely by Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996).
“These are striking results when it comes to younger generations’ knowledge about basic sun exposure,” says Tomecki. “Gen Z and Millennials have a lifetime of potentially 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.”
Gen Z survey findings:
- 42% are unaware that tanning causes skin cancer
- 41% are unaware that the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are reflected by snow, water, and sand
- 33% are unaware that they can get sunburned on a cloudy day
Millennial survey findings:
- 42% are unaware that the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can penetrate clothing
- 37% are unaware that tanning causes skin cancer
- 23% are unaware that sunburn increases the risk of getting skin cancer
To learn more about sun protection and skin cancer prevention and test your skin cancer knowledge via a short quiz, visit PracticeSafeSun.org. If you 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. To find one in your area, visit aad.org/findaderm.