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More than 30% of U.S. adults never use sunscreen, new Yahoo News/YouGov poll finds

Despite the fact that 80% of people say protecting their skin from the sun is “important,” skipping sunscreen is common, and painful sunburns abound. That’s according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov survey, conducted from May 10 to 13, that looked at the sunscreen habits of 1,794 U.S. adults.

While dermatologists are well aware that not everyone is on top of their sun protection routine every day and that sunscreen myths are surprisingly common, particularly among young adults, Dr. Vicky Zhen Ren, assistant professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life she’s taken aback by the poll results.

“I’m surprised that almost 1 out of 5 people think it’s not important to protect their skin from the sun,” she says. “Even if people choose not to use sunscreen, I would’ve thought everyone would know it’s ‘right’ to exercise sun protection — analogous to how we all know [a] healthy diet and regular exercise are important, even if we don’t all adhere to a healthy diet and engage in regular exercise.”

Here’s what else the survey revealed about sunscreen use in adults — and what dermatologists want people to know when it comes to sun protection, including how to make it a habit.

The poll revealed that 33% of adults say they never use sunscreen — with more men reporting skipping sunscreen than women (42% compared to 25%), while 29% of respondents say they use it less than a few times a month. Only 12% of adults use sunscreen every day, with more women making sun protection part of their daily routine than men (18% compared to 6%).

Dermatologists warn that not using sunscreen often enough or at all can have serious consequences. Dr. Julia Tzu, founder and director of Wall Street Dermatology, tells Yahoo Life that “UV radiation from the sun is harmful to the skin and can cause premature aging as well as skin cancer. When applied properly, sunscreen reduces the amount of UV radiation that we receive from the sun.”

Skin cancer affects 1 in 5 Americans, but, as Ren points out, “it is one of the most preventable cancers.” She explains that sunscreen and protective clothing, such as broad-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts and long pants “play a huge role in preventing skin cancer,” adding: “UV exposure — whether intermittent or chronic, low or high intensity, via tanning beds or sunlight — increases the risk of skin cancer and pre-cancers, as well as premature aging,” including lentigines (aka age spots), melasma and wrinkles.

Experts say it’s important to make sunscreen application part of your daily routine so it becomes a habit, just like brushing your teeth. Tzu and Ren suggest keeping sunscreen in easily accessible or visible places, such as on your bathroom counter, by the door or on your desk “so you are visually reminded to use it daily,” says Ren, who suggests also keeping sunscreen in your purse or backpack in case you forget to use it or need to reapply.

Ren also recommends telling close family members or a friend about your goal to become better about applying sunscreen, “so that they can remind you and keep you accountable.” She adds, “This may also inspire them to use sunscreen regularly as well.”

Although traditional sunscreen provides better protection than SPF-infused makeup, some level of protection is better than none. Ren says you can use a CC (color correcting) cream with SPF or tinted sunscreen “so that you are combining sunscreen with your beauty routine.” But if you’re not a fan of corrective tints or want to prioritize using more-effective sun protection, she suggests using “a sunscreen that is sheer and moisturizing so that you don’t feel like you are wearing sunscreen.”

Whether you go with regular sunscreen or the tinted kind, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using SPF 30 or higher, which is good news for the majority of adults in the survey: 25% say they use SPF 50, and 23% use SPF 30, compared to 6% who use SPF 15 and 3% who opt for SPF 100.

The poll also found that nearly 30% of adults rarely or never reapply sunscreen every two hours when they’re outdoors, swimming or sweating. But experts say that leaves you vulnerable to sunburns.

“After application, sunscreen gradually loses efficacy, partly due to the effects of the sun,” explains Ren. “Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours, more frequently if the person is sweating or engaging in water activities. Some sunscreens will designate water resistant 40 or 80 on the label, which indicates the sunscreen will be effective in the water for 40 or 80 minutes, respectively. After that timeframe, the sunscreen needs to be reapplied.”

Tzu agrees, but also points out that the “duration of sunscreen activity just depends on what you are doing.” According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunscreen can last four to six hours if you’re staying cool and dry indoors and aren’t near any windows.

The poll found that 80% of adults have gotten a sunburn at least once and 64% have gotten multiple sunburns. Not surprisingly, that’s not good for your skin.

“Sunburns, as well as tanning — indoor or outdoor — without burning, damage the DNA in skin cells,” explains Ren. “This damage accumulates with more episodes of tanning and/or sunburns and leads to a significantly increased risk of skin cancer, including melanoma, which accounts for the most skin cancer deaths.”

Even though the vast majority (83%) of people polled say protecting their skin from the sun is important, most don’t wear sunscreen daily. So why is there a disconnect? “Many people recognize that health is important, but most may not take the precautions or effort to make sure they are achieving healthy habits,” explains Tzu. “For example, most people know that eating processed foods is unhealthy, but they continue to eat it, because there is no immediate danger and it is convenient. Same thing with sunscreen and sun protection.”

Ren adds that “people may not remember to apply sunscreen, not have sunscreen on hand, find sunscreen an inconvenience to their daily routine or an unwelcome break to their fun outdoor activity or not like the feel of sunscreen on their skin.”

For some people, says Tzu, “it might take a personal or family diagnosis of skin cancer to induce a change in sun protection behavior.”

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