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Sun Protection

Without protection, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. UV exposure adds up over time, increasing your risk of developing skin cancer. You can protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays by staying in the shade, wearing sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and wearing clothes that cover your arms and legs.

Healthy People provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans. Healthy People 2020 has two objectives regarding the use of sun protection—

  • C-20.5: Increase the proportion of adolescents in grades 9 through 12 who follow protective measures that may reduce the risk of skin cancer.
  • C-20.6: Increase the proportion of adults aged 18 years and older who follow protective measures that may reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Adolescents

The Healthy People 2020 target is to raise the proportion of teens who use sun protection from 9.3% in 2009 to 11.2% by 2020. This target has not been met. In 2013 (the most recent year data were collected), about one out of every 10 adolescents reported wearing sunscreen regularly when outside for more than an hour on a sunny day.

Percentage of U.S. High School Students Who Reported Wearing Sunscreen Regularly in 2013

Stick figures showing one out of ten teens protecting themselves from the sun.

10.1% regularly wear sunscreen
when outside for more than one hour on a sunny day.

Data source: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 2013.

Adults

The Healthy People 2020 target is to raise the proportion of adults who use sun protection to 73.7% by 2020. Women who are 25 years old or older have exceeded this target, but men and younger women have not met the target. Overall, 70.8% of U.S. adults use at least one form of sun protection (shade, sunscreen, or protective clothing) always or most of the time when outdoors on a warm, sunny day for more than an hour, an increase from 67.0% in 2008.

Percentage of U.S. Adults Who Reported Using Sun Protection in 2015, by Sex

In regards to the percentage of adult men who reported using sun protection in 2015, 55.4 percent are ages 18 to 24 while 68.3 percent are ages 25 and over. In regards to the percentage of adult women who reported using sun protection in 2015, 66.2 percent are ages 18 to 24 while 76 percent are ages 25 and over. The Healthy People 2020 target percentage is 73.7 percent.

Data source: 2015 National Health Interview Survey.

The form of sun protection adults choose to use most often varies by sex. Shade and sunscreen are most common among women, while protective clothing is most common among men. Overall, about three out of every four women and two out of every three men use at least one form of sun protection regularly.

Percentage of U.S. Adults Who Reported Using Different Forms of Sun Protection in 2015, by Sex

31.9 percent of men and 46 percent of women reported using shade in 2015. 23.4 percent of men and 43.6 percent of women reported using sunscreen with SPF 15 plus in 2015. 43.6 percent of men and 33.4 percent of women reported using protective clothing in 2015. 66.7 percent of men and 74.8 percent of women reported using one or more sun protection strategies in 2015.

Data source: 2015 National Health Interview Survey.

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