Men skimping on sunscreen

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
September 01, 2011, 1:11 AM GMT+0

Nearly 90% of British adults admit their skin has been sunburnt – with almost half (44%) experiencing pain as result of being in the sun, our survey for Cancer Research UK has shown. Men are also less likely than women to protect their skin in other ways, like spending time in the shade or covering up with clothing, the survey has also found.

  • 96% are aware that getting sunburnt increases the risk of skin cancer
  • Yet 20% of Britons often don’t plan for the weather and get caught without protection if it is sunny, while more than a fifth (22%) wants to ‘be tanned’
  • Among men, fewer than half (47%) use at least factor 15 sunscreen compared to two thirds (66%) of women, to protect their skin from sunburn
  • Over 50% more men than women forget to protect their skin (23% versus 15% of women)and, worryingly, 75% more men than women are not worried about getting sunburnt (8% versus 14%).

‘Easy to get caught out’

Despite high awareness levels, Brits are still putting themselves at risk of skin cancer by getting sunburnt.

David Denton, 34, from near Halifax in Yorkshire, was diagnosed in February 2009 with malignant melanoma on his face after his dentist persuaded him to get a strange-looking mole checked out.

‘As a construction site worker I spend about 40 per cent of my working life outdoors. The company I worked for said we had to wear T shirts and long trousers to help protect our skin, but it was still easy to get caught out and forget the strength of the sun sometimes,’ he says. ‘I never really thought about the possibility of getting skin cancer even though I’m fair skinned and burn easily.’

David had surgery to remove the melanoma from the side of his face leaving him with a large scar and stretched skin.

‘I am definitely more aware of protecting my skin from sunburn now, and always remind my mates to put on sunscreen, stick a cap on and keep an eye on their skin.
‘I’m lucky that my melanoma was spotted early but the disease can be deadly. Men as well as women should ensure they look after their skin to keep the risk of this awful cancer to a minimum.’

‘A big gap between what people know and how they behave’

Over the last 25 years in Britain, rates of malignant melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer - have risen faster than any of the most common cancers in males and females.

Caroline Cerny, Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart campaign manager, said:

‘There’s a big gap between what people know and how they behave in the sun. And this report highlights one of the challenges we face in halting the rise in melanoma rates.

‘These results indicate that men seem to be worse than women at protecting their skin in the sun.

‘Sunburn is a sign that the DNA in your skin has been damaged and people know that getting sunburn can increase the risk of skin cancer but many don’t bother to protect their skin from burning.'

Sunburn damage

Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK agrees.

'Many cases of melanoma could be prevented if people took more care in the sun. Your skin doesn’t have to be red-raw, peeling or blistering to have sunburn damage. If your skin has gone red in the sun, it’s sunburnt.

'Whether at home or abroad, people should think how to use shade, clothing and sunscreen, applied generously and regularly, to protect themselves.’

Despite more women being diagnosed with melanoma, 2008 UK figures show that more men die each year from the disease, with rates of men dying from malignant melanoma having doubled in the last 30 years.

SunSmart is the UK’s national skin cancer prevention campaign, commission by the Department of Health and run by Cancer Research UK.

The campaign provides evidence-based information about skin cancer and sun protection.