It’s not new information that successfully avoiding a sunburn starts with generously applying sunscreen every day. However, a new study reveals that applying SPF isn’t the only sun protective measures you should be taking while out in the sun. In fact, the study revealed that those who only use sunscreen have a higher likelihood of burning than those who also wear a hat, protective clothing, and sit in the shade on sunny days.
According to the research led by Kasey Morris of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD, it’s essential to recognize how sun-protective behaviors are related to sunburn in order to prevent skin cancer within society. “Most of these cases are caused by excess exposure to ultraviolet radiation and could be avoided through adequate sun-protective behaviors,” Morris told Reuters Health.
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In order to examine how sun-protective behavior affects skin cancer, Morris and his colleague Frank Perna analyzed data from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey. The survey—it had more than 28,000 responses—asked participants how their skin would react if exposed to the sun for an hour after several months of no exposure. For the people that answered with “get a severe burn with blisters,” “have a moderate sunburn with peeling,” or “burn mildly with some or no tanning,” they were considered sun-sensitive. For those who said “turn darker without sunburn” or “nothing would happen,” they were considered nonsun-sensitive.
The survey also specified how frequently participants had sunburn in the past year and how often they used sun protection in the form of sunscreen, shade, a hat, long sleeves or long pants. Fortunately, the majority of people (77 percent!) claimed to use at least one form of sun protection. However, of the sun-sensitive participants who only used sunblock as protection from UV rays, 62 percent still got sunburned. Sun-sensitive people with the lowest rate of sunburn didn’t use sunscreen at all, but instead stayed in the shade, wore a hat and wore protective clothing.
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“The most surprising and counterintuitive finding was that regular sunscreen use, in the absence of other protective behaviors, was associated with the highest likelihood of sunburn,” Morris clarified to Reuters Health.
Ultimately, the lesson here is to always double up on sun protective measures. While sunblock might be a good option for when you’re running errands or in and out of the house all day, more extreme actions should be taken to protect the skin during extended outdoor activities on a sunny day. Less frequent sunburns equates to a smaller possibility of skin cancer (and wrinkles!), which is definitely a good thing.
We’ve reached out to a doctor for comment on this study and will update once we hear back.