Since sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, dermatologists say the survey results are an encouraging sign that sun protection knowledge and action is improving across generations.
“Research shows that it only takes one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence to nearly double a person’s risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, later in life,” said board-certified Dermatologist Ali Hendi, MD, FAAD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington. “It’s great news that more parents today are aware of the risks associated with sun exposure and recognize the importance of protecting their children from the sun.”The increased awareness could stem from increased knowledge about skin cancer prevention and sun protection, says Hendi, signaling that public education on these topics might be paying off. For example, according to the survey, most Americans report knowing that it’s possible to get sunburnt on a cloudy day; that sunscreen has an expiration date; and that people with dark skin tones can get skin cancer too.
Hendi’s patient Sharman Dudley, a mother of two, knows first-hand how critical it is to practice safe sun, both for herself and her family. Diagnosed with melanoma four times, Dudley says she’s grateful her skin cancers were detected early, when they were most treatable. This experience makes her particularly mindful of her kids’ skin health now as well.
“While we still enjoy the outdoors, having melanoma has changed the way I plan our activities outdoors, like making sure to find or create shade during periods of peak sunlight,” she explained. “We also don’t leave our house without wearing sunscreen and bringing wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses with UV protection, and lightweight and long-sleeved shirts that we can throw on when needed.”
Hendi emphasized that sunscreen isn’t the only way for busy parents to shield their kids from the sun, but rather one component of a comprehensive sun protection plan. Other components include protective clothing, staying out of the sun from 10am to 2pm and seeking shade whenever possible.