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New American Academy of Dermatology survey reveals most Americans say sun protection is more important now than five years ago, yet many misunderstand how to protect themselves

Dermatologists urge the public to protect themselves from the sun to reduce skin cancer risk ahead of Melanoma Monday (May 2) and Skin Cancer Awareness Month

ROSEMONT, Ill. (April 26, 2022) — In a recent survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults, the American Academy of Dermatology found that while respondents gave themselves high ratings for sun protection and most reported that sun protection is more important to them now than it was five years ago, there’s still a lot they 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. To address these misconceptions, the AAD will kick off its annual SPOT Skin Cancer campaign on Melanoma Monday (May 2) during Skin Cancer Awareness Month to encourage Americans to #PracticeSafeSun since unprotected UV exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.

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 cancer1.

To help the public protect themselves from the sun, the AAD has awarded 20 shade structure grants to public schools and non-profit organizations this year for the installation of permanent shade structures for outdoor locations that are not protected from the sun, such as playgrounds, pools, or recreation spaces. Since 1999, the AAD’s Shade Structure Grant Program has awarded 480 shade structure grants that protect an estimated 3.6 million children and adults from overexposure to the sun each day.

The AAD also offers a youth education program, Good Skin Knowledge, which teaches young people the facts about common skin, hair, and nail conditions. This year, the AAD awarded 40 Good Skin Knowledge community grants to underserved communities for kids to learn about good skin health, including the importance of protecting themselves from the sun.

“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.”

To learn more about sun protection and skin cancer prevention, visit PracticeSafeSun.org. To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/findaderm.

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Angela Panateri, apanateri@aad.org

Media Relations, mediarelations@aad.org

More Information

Sun Protection

Prevent Skin Cancer

About the Research

Versta Research conducted a national survey of U.S. adults on behalf of the American Academy of Dermatology. Sampling was stratified by age, gender, region, race/ethnicity, income, and education, and it was weighted to match current population estimates from the United States Census Bureau. The survey was conducted from January 24 to February 7, 2022. Assuming no sample bias, the maximum margin of error for full-sample estimates is ±3%.

About the AAD

Headquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 20,000 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM (3376) or aad.org. Follow the AAD on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology), Twitter (@AADskin), Instagram (@AADskin1), or YouTube (AcademyofDermatology). Editor’s note: The AAD does not promote or endorse any products or services. This content is intended as editorial content and should not be embedded with any paid, sponsored or advertorial content as it could be perceived as an AAD endorsement.

1 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2022. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2022.