Skin care products and cosmetic therapies that promise to erase the telltale signs of sun damage are everywhere. Ironically, women who seek these treatments to improve the appearance of their skin could have avoided their fate by avoiding excessive sun exposure in the first place.
Despite the time and money needed to correct their past behavior, the majority of women polled in a new survey conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology confirmed that women still prefer the bronzed look over their natural skin tone.
Speaking today at the Academy’s Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month news conference, dermatologist Darrell S. Rigel, M.D., clinical professor, New York University Medical Center in New York, N.Y., shared new data comparing how women and men perceive people with a tan and identifying which gender does a better job of protecting itself from sun exposure.
When asked whether or not people look better with a tan, 61 percent of women and 69 percent of men age 18 and older responded that they do. In fact, the majority of women (54 percent) and men (60 percent) even believed that people actually look healthier when they have a tan. As income increased, so did the number of women and men who agreed with these statements – 73 percent of people with the highest household income ($75,000 or more) agreed that people look better with a tan, and 69 percent of respondents in this income bracket thought that people look healthier with a tan.
"Despite the fact that we know that there is no such thing as a safe tan, people still associate bronzed skin with beauty and health,” said Dr. Rigel. “What’s even more surprising is that the survey showed that 62 percent of men and women responded that they know someone who has or had skin cancer, which – depending on its location and severity – does nothing to improve your looks and can be very detrimental to your health.”
When it comes to protecting themselves from the sun, the survey found that women do a much better job than men. In fact, 77 percent of women vs. 62 percent of men responded that they are very or somewhat careful to protect their skin from sun exposure – with the youngest women and men (age 18 to 24) being the least careful of all age groups (51 percent). Women also are more than twice as likely as men to apply sunscreen when they are going to be out in the sun (34 percent vs. 16 percent), and 35 percent of women say they try to stay in the shade when they are outdoors for a long period of time vs. only 21 percent of men.
One area where men fared better than women is wearing hats and protective clothing as a means of sun protection. The survey found that more than one-third of men (35 percent) said that they wear a hat when outdoors in the sun vs. only 9 percent of women, and 32 percent of men wear protective clothing when they plan to be outdoors for a long period of time vs. only 26 percent of women.
However, Dr. Rigel pointed out that the hats typically worn by men are baseball caps that do not provide adequate sun protection for the face, neck or ears. He recommends wearing wide-brimmed hats instead. “When it comes to protecting themselves with clothing and accessories, both genders are missing an opportunity to significantly reduce their exposure to the sun,” added Dr. Rigel.
When probed about their knowledge of factors that contribute to an increased risk of skin cancer, more women than men knew that getting a tan from the sun can be dangerous to your skin (94 percent vs. 89 percent); the sunburns you have as a child increase your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult (81 percent vs. 70 percent); and having five or more sunburns during your lifetime doubles your risk of developing skin cancer (77 percent vs. 64 percent).
In addition, more women than men (82 percent vs. 76 percent) knew that you can get skin cancer on parts of your skin that are not exposed to the sun.
“It’s encouraging that the majority of people know that sunburns significantly increase the risk of developing skin cancer, but we need to see this knowledge translate into behavioral changes,” explained Dr. Rigel.
One area where both men and women are heeding dermatologists’ advice is staying out of tanning salons. When asked if they used a tanning bed last year, 90 percent of women and 94 percent of men responded no. Of the 10 percent of women who said they did use a tanning bed, the main reason cited by 62 percent of those women was to get a “base” tan before the summer or a vacation – a myth that continues among die-hard sun worshippers despite being dispelled repeatedly by dermatologists.
“Clearly, intentional sun exposure from natural sunlight and artificial light sources needs to be avoided to reduce a person’s risk of developing skin cancer,” said Dr. Rigel. “Our survey demonstrates what we’ve long known – attitudes and behaviors go hand-in-hand.”
The survey results were determined by a telephone survey conducted among a national probability sample of 1,013 adults comprising 505 men and 508 women 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental United States. This CARAVAN® survey was conducted in January 2005 by Opinion Research Corporation (Princeton, N.J.) in collaboration with the Academy.
For more information about skin cancer, visit the Academy’s patient education Web site at http://www.skincarephysicians.com and select “SkinCancerNet.”