Conference Coverage

Americans getting more sunburns



The proportion of Americans who’ve experienced two or more sunburns in the past year rose significantly during a recent 10-year period, for reasons that are unclear, Nicole L. Bolick, MD, reported at the virtual annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.

A woman has sunscreen applied to her back. Aja Koska/Getty Images

On the plus side, utilization of indoor tanning plunged in the United States during the same period, a statistic worth celebrating as a public health and legislative success, noted Dr. Bolick, who was at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, when she conducted her study and is now at East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

More good news: Her analysis of data from 67,471 nationally representative participants in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Information Survey for the years 2005, 2010, and 2015 also demonstrated that the public’s adoption of several key skin cancer prevention behaviors is on the rise, although she added that rates clearly remain suboptimal.

For example, the proportion of Americans who practice sun avoidance climbed from 31.7% in 2005 to 35.5% in 2010, and 36.8% in 2015 in a multivariate logistic regression analysis adjusted for demographics, alcohol use, location, smoking status, education level, health insurance, and family and personal history of skin cancer.

Similarly, the use of sunscreen always or most of the time when outdoors for more than 1 hour on a warm, sunny day rose from an adjusted 31.5% in 2005 to 33.1% in 2010 and to 34.3% in 2015.

Also, sun protective clothing – long pants, hats, and/or long-sleeved shirts – was utilized always or most of the time by 35.9% of respondents in 2005, 38.4% in 2010, and 37.2% in 2015.

In 2005, 19% of Americans reported having a lifetime history of a physician-performed full body skin examination. The prevalence of this secondary skin cancer prevention measure rose to 22.4% in 2010 and remained the same in 2015.

In the 2005 national survey, 14.1% of respondents reported engaging in indoor tanning within the past year. This figure dropped to 6.2% in 2010 and fell further to 4.1% in 2015.

A history of two or more sunburns within the past year was reported by 18.2% of subjects in 2005, by 21.1% in 2010, and by 19.9% in 2015. It’s unclear whether this unwelcome phenomenon is due to inadequate use of sun protection or increased awareness of the link between sun exposure and skin cancer, with a resultant increase in reporting of sunburns. The influence of climate change is another possible explanation worthy of further study, according to Dr. Bolick.

She reported having no financial conflicts regarding her study, conducted free of commercial support.

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