Sunscreen Use Among Adults in the United States

Sunscreen use is particularly low among men, non-Hispanic blacks, people with less sun-sensitive skin, and people with lower incomes.

Each year, nearly 5 million Americans are treated for skin cancer at a cost of about $8.1 billion. Yet most skin cancers can be prevented by avoiding too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or indoor tanning.

Many people use sunscreen to protect their skin. When used the right way, sunscreen can help prevent skin cancer and prevent or delay aging of the skin caused by sun exposure. But little is known about how people use sunscreen, especially with regard to use on the face versus other exposed skin.

CDC researchers used data from the 2013 Consumer HealthStyles survey to look at how adults in the United States use sunscreen when they are outdoors in the sun for more than one hour.

Key Findings

  • Fewer than 15% of men and 30% of women use sunscreen regularly on their face and other exposed skin when outside for more than one hour.
  • Sunscreen use was especially low among certain demographic groups—
    • Non-Hispanic blacks.
    • People with less sun-sensitive skin.
    • People with an annual household income below $60,000.
    • People who do not get the recommended amount of weekly aerobic physical activity.External
  • Many people use sunscreen on their face but not on other exposed skin. This pattern was especially common among women.
  • Most sunscreen users knew the sun protection factor (SPF) of their sunscreen and used products with an SPF 15 or higher.
  • Nearly 40% of sunscreen users were unsure if their sunscreen provided broad-spectrum protection.

Using broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher is important, but it shouldn’t be your only defense against the sun. For the best protection, stay in the shade and wear protective clothing, a hat with a wide brim, and sunglasses, as well as sunscreen. Many people were unsure if their sunscreen provided broad-spectrum protection, which points to the need for more education about the qualities they should look for when choosing a sunscreen. Communities can make it easier for people to stay sun-safe while enjoying the outdoors in many ways, like providing shade in outdoor recreational areas and making sunscreen widely available.

Citation

Holman DM, Berkowitz Z, Guy GP, Jr., Hawkins NA, Saraiya M, Watson M. Patterns of sunscreen use on the face and other exposed skin among U.S. adults.External Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2015;73(1):83–92 e81.

Page last reviewed: August 15, 2018