Safe Sun Exposure 2023 Adults' Awareness of Skin Protection
Still interested in getting a tan this summer? Here’s what you need to know about safe sun exposure and how to protect your skin.Read more
This 12-question survey was held on the Health Canal website on June 29th, 2023. It surveyed 1065 American adults throughout the U.S. The majority of respondents were Caucasian, followed by Asian and Hispanic ethnicities. The survey aimed to learn about current UV protection methods and beliefs about sun exposure.
- The main reason American adults expose themselves to the sun is for vitamin D production — but dermatologists are more likely to recommend food and supplements for vitamin D instead of sun exposure.
- One-third of respondents still sunbathe to get a tan, and research shows over 90% of women think tans are attractive.
- 10% of respondents said they always experience some redness after sun exposure.
- Blisters regularly occurred 5% of the time, and a burning sensation 8% of the time.
- Only 16% always wore sunscreen in the summer, including on cloudy days when skin damage is still likely.
- Just 20% often wore sunscreen in the spring — a time when sunburns are frequent.
- Sunscreen application was the most common method of skin protection, followed by staying indoors or seeking shade.
- Just 42% of respondents said they felt extremely aware of the harmful effects of UV, compared to 17% being somewhat aware.
- People of African descent were less aware of the risks of skin cancer and were least likely to protect their skin.
What Drives Sun and Skin Exposure?
Why do you expose yourself to the sun?
To help my body naturally produce Vitamin D
Daily life (running errands, etc.)
For relaxation and enjoyment
For outdoor exercise or sports
To achieve a tan
For work (gardening, construction, lifeguard, etc.)
To support the healing of certain skin conditions
To escape the cold and enjoy warmer weather
Two-thirds of people said they exposed themselves to the sun for its vitamin D benefits. But exposing yourself to the sun just for vitamin D also comes with its risks. Plus, respondents weren’t necessarily aware of how much sun or what time of the day would meet their vitamin D needs.
Dietary sources of vitamin D are limited, so to achieve optimal levels, many physicians recommend appropriate vitamin D supplements.
The best way to determine if you are getting enough vitamin D is to measure your blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D], which is the main form of vitamin D in the body. A blood level of 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) or higher is considered adequate for most people. However, some experts recommend higher levels of 30 ng/mL or more for optimal health. You should consult your doctor before taking any vitamin D supplements or changing your sun exposure habits.
- Dr. Harikiran Chekuri , a dermatologist and plastic surgeon -
Tanning: Is It Worth It?
Society still can’t let go of tans as a marker of beauty. In 2019, 85% of social media content about skin tanning promoted it. And, as of 2015, over 90% of women still think tans are attractive. Surprisingly, about 10% of the U.S. population — primarily women — still use indoor tanning salons.
In our survey, 36% of respondents said a tan is a primary driver for sun exposure. It’s possible people still think it’s worth it because they don’t understand the true dangers of UV radiation.
Why Do Adults Fail to Protect Their Skin?
Are you aware of potentially harmful effect of UV radiation on the skin, such as sunburn, premature aging, and an increased risk of skin cancer?
Not so aware
Not at all aware
Less than half of adults said they were “extremely aware” of the UV’s harmful effects. According to research, some reasons people don’t protect themselves from the sun include:
- Unawareness that UV radiation can still be harmful on cloudy days and during spring, fall, and winter.
- Not knowing what different sun protection factors, SPFs, mean and how often to reapply.
- Forgetting to reapply sunscreen.
- Social conformity.
- Believing that a suntan makes you look healthier.
- Disbelief in just how damaging the sun’s UV rays can be.
- Thinking that an hour or so of sunshine a day is healthy.
- Believing sunscreen, covering up, or going to the shade is a hassle.
Our survey results showed that only 16% of respondents always wore sunscreen on cloudy summer days when sunburns are still highly likely. Many may be unaware that sunburns are possible on cloudy days, as well as during spring, fall, and winter. Less than 20% reported always wearing sunscreen in the spring, and just 13% in the fall.
Believing that tans are attractive may be one of the biggest reasons people don’t protect themselves. Our survey suggests that this is closely followed by unawareness of the danger of UV exposure and forgetting to apply — and reapply — sunscreen.
Busting Skin Protection Myths
According to our survey results, these are some of the top beliefs that need to be addressed to reduce the risk of skin cancer:
1. Myth: People with darker skin don’t need to protect themselves as much as people with lighter skin
- Fact: Skin cancer can develop in people of all colors. Unfortunately, once detected in those with darker skin, it’s usually already at a late stage.
- Fact: You can get skin cancer even if you’ve never gotten a sunburn in your life.
- Fact: You should perform monthly checks at home. Check with a dermatologist at least yearly or every three to six months if you’re at a higher risk.
2. Myth: You only have to worry about skin cancer if you burn or tan.
3. Myth: You only need to check your moles once a year.
As we increase awareness of these myths, we can work toward creating a well-informed public that cares for their skin, no matter their skin color, cloud coverage, or season.
4. Myth: Getting a tan is healthy.
- Fact: Any sun exposure increases your risk of skin cancer.
- Fact: Sun exposure may come with more risks than it's worth to get adequate vitamin D. The American Academy of Dermatology Association does not recommend sun exposure but to instead eat vitamin D-rich foods and take supplements.
- Fact: About 90% of UV rays can still pass through clouds. UV damage can happen even when it’s cloudy, spring, fall, or winter.
5. Myth: Sun exposure is the best way to get enough vitamin D.
6. Myth: You only need to wear sunscreen in the summer or when it’s sunny.
As dermatologist Dr. Chaudhry, Head of Search at Scandinavian Biolabs, states, “It’s important to remember that sun damage is cumulative, can happen to anyone, and can occur even on cold and rainy days. Make sun protection a daily habit, and be vigilant in performing self-checks for any changes in the skin. Educating children and young adults about the importance of sun protection is crucial for establishing lifelong healthy habits.”
Safety Tips for Skin Protection
Remember that every time you expose your skin to direct sunlight, you’re damaging your skin’s DNA. Even one hour of UV exposure damages your skin’s DNA. That's why practicing effective sun safety measures is crucial to protect yourself when spending time outdoors.
Here are some tips to keep yourself safe when out in the sun:
- Apply broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher at least 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure.
- An SPF of 30 blocks about 97% of the sun’s UVB rays.
- Apply sunscreen to every area of your body not protected by clothing.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
- Wear UV protection sunglasses, a hat, and ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF, clothing.
- Avoid the sun when the UV Index is higher than 3.
- Seek shade between 10 am to 4 pm daily.
Caring For Skin Damage
“For sunburn, supportive measures like cool compresses, moisturizers, aloe vera, over-the-counter pain relievers, and staying hydrated can help. For blisters, it's crucial not to pop them as they serve as a natural barrier to healing. Keep the area clean and dry, and avoid further sun exposure until the blisters heal.”
“Laser light can improve the texture of the skin, reduce the appearance of fine wrinkles and dark spots, and rejuvenate the skin overall.”
Over time, UV exposure accelerates skin aging, increases wrinkles, and results in darkened spots. This is called photoaging.
Year-round prevention is crucial to avoid damaging the skin, along with regular self-exams for new or changing moles.
How To Safely Get Vitamin D From The Sun
The recommended intake of vitamin D is 15 micrograms, or 600 IU, for adults up to 70 years old. Many people get some of their needs met through sun exposure, but it can be unreliable. The season, time of day, cloud coverage, smog, and melanin content all affect vitamin D synthesis from sunlight.
In general, 5-30 minutes of sun exposure to your arms and legs twice weekly can be enough to get your vitamin D needs met while minimizing risk. However, be aware that sunscreen blocks skin synthesis of vitamin D. Also, this amount of time might not be sufficient during the winter months in the northern hemisphere.
Always keep skin safety in mind. Skin protection comes first if the UV Index is at 3 or above. That’s why it’s often healthiest to get sun exposure for vitamin D before 10 am or after 4 pm during late spring and throughout summer.
Fortunately, you can avoid the risks of sun exposure completely. You can take supplements if you have sensitive skin or are worried about the harmful effects of the sun. Many doctors recommend vitamin D supplementation as the safest and most effective method to increase vitamin D levels. Plus, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and can stay in your system for weeks or even months — so if you happen to miss a day or two of your vitamins, you don’t need to worry much.