Sunburnt again? Study finds better ways for older adults to remember the sunscreen

ATLANTA — Summer’s around the corner, and that means less gloomy skies and a whole lot of sunshine. However, with all that sun comes the need to apply sunscreen every time you go outside. Unfortunately, not everyone heeds the warning. Now, a new study is putting out several effective ways to promote sunscreen use, especially for older adults who are at high risk for skin cancer.

Skin cancer can affect anyone, but it’s more prevalent among those exposed to the sun for a long period of time and the aging. A research team sent out a survey to non-Hispanic White adults 50 years and older to assess their beliefs on using sunscreen. The team chose this population because they are more likely to experience sunburn or receive a skin cancer diagnosis from their doctor than other races and ethnicities. A total of 237 people responded to the survey.

Results revealed the group’s varying motivations for using sunscreen. If they believed sunscreen will prevent sunburn, they are more likely to use it. Meanwhile, those who thought sunscreen takes too much time to apply are less likely to use it. However, if a significant other reminded them of using sunscreen, they were more open to putting it on.

In total, 31 percent regularly applied or often used sunscreen during the summer months or when out in the sun for over an hour. Women and people with some college education were more likely to use sunscreen. Another group using sunscreen often are people with a high risk of cancer (46%), compared to those with medium risk (27%) and low risk (21%).

How can people spread the message about sunscreen?

The study authors note the findings could shape the messaging of sunscreen use and encourage others to regularly apply it. The team boiled down the findings to three core strategies:

First, focus on the immediate benefits of sunscreen use. One effective strategy would be shaping reminders around how sunscreen can protect against sunburn in a few hours than thinking about the risk of future skin cancer.

Next, choose products that meet the individual’s preferences. There are many options to apply for sunscreen so if you think it’s a big time-waster rubbing sunscreen all over your body, you may want to try spray-on sunscreen formulations that can rapidly cover large areas of skin.

Finally, encouraging reminders from spouses and partners. The findings showed that people were 72 percent more likely to put on sunscreen on a regular basis if they were reminded by their romantic partners.

The study is published in The Journal of the Dermatology Nurses’ Association.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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