Despite the known risks of sun exposure to the skin, Generation Z is playing fast and loose with sun protection. A survey conducted on 1,000 Americans aged 18-25 demonstrates a huge gap in perceived SPF protection and what actually needs to be done to keep skin safe.
While 36% of respondents to SkinProud‘s survey claimed to use SPF daily, further responses revealed that those who use sun protection are relying almost exclusively on multi-tasking products like foundations, moisturizers, and serums. A stunning 77% of Gen Z respondents who think they use sunscreen daily actually aren’t.
While these products do contain sunscreen ingredients, they are not sunscreen and do not provide enough defense from UVA and UVB rays to be considered adequate protection from sun damage.
That means that the real number of daily sunscreen users in Gen Z is even lower than we thought.
Why Isn’t Gen Z Using Stand-Alone Sunscreen?
Davie, FL dermatologist Marianna Blyumin-Karasik, MD notes that despite the popularity of skin care with Generation Z, sun protection seems to be a well of misinformation.
“I am frustrated, and yet not fully surprised that the youngest generation of skin-care devotees are not wearing sunscreen daily,” Dr. Blyumin-Karasik says. “The younger skin-care users often gather information from many digital sources, which is like drinking from a fire hydrant.”
With so much misinformation, it’s not exactly surprising to learn that a lot of Gen Z, about 63% of them, don’t bother using any sun protection at all on a daily basis.
Washington, D.C. dermatologist Tina Alster, MD adds despite knowledge of the risks of sun damage being high among Gen Z, sunscreen myths on social media further confuse consumers. “I think that the disconnect relates to an abundance of “fake news” or myths surrounding the risk of sunscreens on social media,” Dr. Alster says. “Namely, that sunscreens are somehow dangerous to one’s health and to the environment.”
A crucial first step is to get information about sunscreen and skin health from reputable sources.
“Simple and smart is the key for foundational knowledge about skin wellness,” Dr. Blyumin-Karasik explains. “Gathering smart information on skin health and beauty from skin experts and board certified dermatologists is optimal.”
Why Aren’t Multi-Tasking Products Good Enough?
If you notice, most multi-tasking products don’t claim to be sunscreen, but to include an SPF.
That’s because of the strict FDA guidelines for what qualifies as sunscreen. It doesn’t hurt, but you’re likely not using near enough of those multitasking products to qualify for full sun protection.
The FDA’s instructions for sunscreen use are to “apply sunscreen liberally to all uncovered skin, especially your nose, ears, neck, hands, feet, and lips.”
If you’re relying on a moisturizer or foundation to deliver your sun protection, are you really applying it to all these places? When was the last time you put foundation on your ears?
Additionally, the word “liberally” is key.
For the whole body, the FDA advises a “full ounce, or shot glass” amount of sunscreen. That leaves us with about a quarter-size for the face. That’s a lot of foundation, a lot of moisturizer, and a lot of serum. To get the kind of sun protection you need, you’d be wasting an awful lot of product—product that is usually going to be more expensive than stand-alone sunscreen.
If you (or a teen you know) are confused about what kind of sunscreen will work best, consider bringing it up with your dermatologist.
“I make it easy for (my patients) by providing samples of several different mineral sunscreens (tinted and non-tinted) and formulations (eg, lotion, cream, stick, powder) so that they can chose the best one for their skin type and daily habits,” Dr. Alster says.
What Are the Facts?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. In most cases, skin cancer is caused by exposure to UV rays.
“The importance of sun safety cannot be overstated,” Dr. Alster says. “A single blistering sunburn in one’s teens increases the risk of melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—several fold!”
Staying sun-safe doesn’t have to be confusing or difficult. It’s really about maintaining protection and being smart when you’re out and about.
“Since most of us enjoy activities outdoors, the best way to live our lives active while protecting our skin is by avoiding the most intense sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., especially in the peak of the summer in the U.S.,” Dr. Blyumin-Karasik explains. “Seek shade if outdoors, wear UPF protective gear, like rashguards, Coolibar, and Cabana Life. You can also find UPF hats and sunglasses. You need to wear 30+ SPF broad spectrum, mineral-based sunscreen daily and generously reapply every 1.5 hours when exposed to sun.”
How Do We Get Gen Z on Board?
Young people often fall victim to what’s called invincibility bias, where because they don’t see the effects of sun damage until an older person is dealing with skin cancer, they believe they are invincible to those risks. This can make it even harder for the facts about sun safety to stick.
According to Dr. Blyumin-Karasik, Gen Z’s obsession with beauty may be the best way to create a generation of sun-smart consumers. “To breakthrough, sometimes we have to approach skin education with Generation Z and Alpha from another approach, a beauty motivation,” she explains. “For example, exposure to sun without a protective shield of sunscreen may lead to premature skin aging, including an uneven complexion, texture changes and wrinkles. So wear sunscreen daily to preserve your skin youthful and beautiful appearance!”
In this approach, the skin cancer protection sunscreen provides is a cherry on top, rather than the main draw. “And then you say by the way, it can save your life too!” Dr. Blyumin-Karasik says.