The American Cancer Society says more than one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year.  Although the chance of developing skin cancer has been directly linked to sun exposure in repeated studies and the use of sunscreen has been proven to dramatically reduce one’s likelihood of developing a skin cancer, 31% of Americans don’t bother using sunscreen any way.

Excessive sun exposure has been linked to skin cancer, including melanoma, one of the most deadly forms of cancer.  When sunscreen is used properly, the risk of developing skin cancer drops significantly but, according to a new survey of 1,000 adults, almost one-third of all Americans simply don’t use it and 69% report using it only occasionally.

In addition, the survey finds that men are less likely to use sunscreen than women and parents are more likely to apply it to their children than to themselves.  Nevertheless, 27% of parents with children under age 12 say they apply sunscreen infrequently to their children during two to four hours of sun exposure and 14% say no sunscreen is applied to their children even when outside for more than four hours.

The survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, confirms what many dermatologists see in their daily practices.

One dermatologist, Dr. Doris Day, of New York University, calls the situation ‘very frustrating’ in that the information is available and people know what to do for maximum protection but still they aren’t using sunscreen as directed, if at all.

According to Day, ‘one bottle (of sunscreen) should not last a summer.’  Instead, it should be used liberally.  For maximum protection, Day recommends:

  • Use the highest SPF available
  • Never use sunscreen after its expiration date
  • Apply it liberally, a full ounce at a time, before going into the sun
  • During sun exposure, one full ounce should be re-applied every hour
  • Avoid sun exposure during peak hours, from 10:00 AM until after 4:00 PM
  • When exposure must occur during peak hours, wear hats, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants whenever possible

One reason many adults say they don’t use sunscreen is the fear of blocking vitamin D development, a process that requires sun exposure.  Concerned individuals can boost their vitamin D production by taking daily supplements or eating a diet rich in fish, fortified milk, and eggs.  Most people, however, get enough sun exposure during everyday outdoor activities, such as walking to the bus stop, even when sunscreen is applied.