Many Americans Wrong About Sun's Skin Cancer Dangers: Poll

Survey results show Generation Z and millennials have the greatest misunderstandings about sun exposure

By Physician's Briefing Staff | May 04, 2021

A new survey reveals that one-third of Americans lack a basic understanding of sun safety and skin cancer. That is the surprising takeaway from an American Academy of Dermatology survey of 1,000 U.S. adults.

Fifty-three percent of respondents did not realize shade offers protection from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, and 47 percent incorrectly said a base tan would prevent sunburns or were unsure. Thirty-five percent said tanning is safe as long as you do not burn or were unsure, and 31 percent were unaware that tanning causes skin cancer.

The survey revealed that people born after 1996 (Generation Z) had the greatest misunderstandings about sun exposure, followed closely by those who were born between 1981 and 1996 (millennials). Of Gen Z respondents, 42 percent were unaware that tanning causes skin cancer; 41 percent did not know that UV rays are reflected by snow, water, and sand; and 33 percent did not realize they could get sunburned on a cloudy day. Among millennials, 42 percent were unaware the sun's UV rays can penetrate clothing; 37 percent did not know that tanning causes skin cancer; and 23 percent were unaware that sunburn increases skin cancer risk.

"These findings surprised us and demonstrate that misperceptions about skin cancer and sun exposure are still prevalent," Kenneth Tomecki, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and president of the AAD, said in an association news release. "These are striking results when it comes to younger generations' knowledge about basic sun exposure. Gen Z and millennials have a lifetime of potential damaging sun exposure ahead of them, so now is the time to close the knowledge gap and ensure they are aware of how easy it is to practice sun-safe behavior."

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