As the days get longer, and the snow continues to melt, spring seems like it’s finally here. Yet, many of us won’t treat the risks of sun exposure as seriously as we should. This is part of the reason why skin cancer rates have actually risen in the last 20 years, especially among people over 50.
Lax sun safety habits seem to be a combination of an aversion to sunscreen’s greasiness, fashion concerns and a generally blasé attitude about the possibility of getting skin cancer.
However, rising skin cancer rates are mostly because of increased sun exposure. In fact, the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays are responsible for 90 per cent of melanoma cases.
In the 1930s, the chance of getting melanoma was one in 1,500. Now, it’s one in 50. The main reason for this change is that we bare more skin than we used to. Yet, despite greater awareness about melanoma risk, there’s still a lot of resistance to using sunscreen.
Another problem is that many of us don’t know how to put it on properly—in order for sunscreen to work, people need to use a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, and re-apply it every two hours. Moreover, whether it’s using sunscreen, long sleeves, or a hat, because these tend to be unfashionable, we generally refuse them.
Popular culture’s images make us think that bronzed skin is more attractive, which is why many of us are willing to risk greater sun exposure. The vanity aspect also explains tanning salons’ popularity. And, although parents are normally vigilant about using sunscreen on their children, these habits readily disappear when kids are old enough to put it on themselves.
Doctors who don’t promote sunscreen to their patients are another factor. In fact, a 2013 study of U.S. physicians between 1989 and 2010, involving more than 18 billion consults, found that sunscreen was mentioned less than one per cent of the time. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that dermatologists reviewed it with fewer than two per cent of patients.
Interestingly, when discussing the sun’s dangers, warning people about the risk of melanoma seems less effective than appealing to their fear of aging, because most of us don’t think we will be that person who gets skin cancer. Let’s make 2015 different and not ignore literacy about sun safety.