Study Finds Adults Who Used Sunscreen Slightly More Likely To Get Sunburned Interview with:
“Sunburn” by Beatrice Murch is licensed under CC BY 2.0Dawn Holman, MPH
Behavioral Scientist Division of Cancer Prevention and Control
CDC What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Sunburn at any age increases a person’s chances of developing skin cancer in the future. Using a combination of strategies including staying in the shade, wearing clothing that covers the arms and legs, wearing a hat with a wide brim, and wearing sunscreen (SPF 15+) on exposed skin can protect skin from sun damage and reduce risk of sunburn.

This study used national data to examine how often US adults used these sun protection strategies when outdoors in the sun for an hour or longer and how many US adults got sunburned in 2015.

Among adult women, staying in the shade and using sunscreen were the most common sun protection methods. About 40% of women regularly used these strategies. Women were less likely to wear a wide-brimmed hat (14%) or wear clothing covering their arms (11%) and legs (23%).

Among adult men, wearing pants or other clothing covering their legs and staying in the shade were the most common sun protection methods. Just over 30% of men regularly used these strategies. Men were less likely to use sunscreen (22%), wear a wide-brimmed hat (14%) or wear a shirt with long sleeves (13%).

About one-third of US adults got sunburned in 2015. Sunburn was even more common among certain groups. For example, about half of individuals with sun-sensitive skin and about half of adults aged 18-29 got sunburned.

Certain behaviors and health conditions were related to sunburn. For example, adults who used sunless tanning products to darken their skin, binge drank, engaged in aerobic activity, or were overweight or obese were more likely to get sunburned compared to other adults. Adults who regularly stayed in the shade when outdoors or avoided long periods of time in the sun were slightly less likely to get sunburned compared to other adults.

Adults who regularly used sunscreen were slightly more likely to get sunburned. What should readers take away from your report?

 Response: The high rates of sunburn among US adults indicate a need for continued public health efforts to encourage adequate use of sun protection when spending time outdoors. People of all ages, races, and ethnicities can benefit from protecting their skin. Plan ahead and make sun protection part of your routine. When spending time outdoors, wear protective clothing, apply sunscreen (broad spectrum, SPF 15+) on exposed skin, and seek shade, especially during midday, when the sun is most intense. This combined approach works better than relying on sunscreen alone. Avoid sunbathing and indoor tanning altogether. Simply put, tanning your skin is damaging your skin.

Communities can help by providing options for people to limit their sun exposure. Examples include:

  • Increasing shade at playgrounds, public pools, and other public places.
  • Promoting sun protection in recreation areas, including the use or purchase of hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
  • Encouraging employers, childcare centers, schools, and colleges to educate employees and students about sun safety and skin protection.
  • Restricting the availability and use of indoor tanning by minors. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: This study gave us a general picture of how common sunburn and use of sun protection are among US adults. However, we were limited in our ability to further examine the contexts in which sunburn often occurs and explore why we observed the relationship between sunburn and certain behavior like binge drinking and aerobic activity. Future research to better understand the social contexts in which sunburns most often occur and the activities people are engaging in when they get sunburned could help us develop more targeted and effective strategies to prevent sunburn. Future research could also examine the messaging strategies that might resonate best with various demographic groups. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: For additional sun safety tips and resources, visit 

No disclosures


Holman DM, Ding H, Guy GP, Watson M, Hartman AM, Perna FM. Prevalence of Sun Protection Use and Sunburn and Association of Demographic and Behaviorial Characteristics With Sunburn Among US Adults. JAMA Dermatol. Published online March 14, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.0028

[wysija_form id=”3″]

The information on is provided for educational purposes only, and is in no way intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any medical or other condition. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health and ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. In addition to all other limitations and disclaimers in this agreement, service provider and its third party providers disclaim any liability or loss in connection with the content provided on this website.