Adults are much more likely to protect their children from the sun than themselves

Adults are much more likely to protect their children from the sun than themselves

News and Articles
May 2 2005

Adults with children or grandchildren know that protecting their little ones from the sun is essential to preventing painful sunburns. But while parents and grandparents are busy slathering kids with sunscreen and arming them with hats and protective clothing, they are not as likely to practice this same behavior when it comes to protecting themselves, according to a new survey by the American Academy of Dermatology.

Speaking today at the Academy’s Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month news conference, dermatologist Darrell S. Rigel, M.D., clinical professor, New York University Medical Center in New York, N.Y., presented new data showing that adults are much more likely to protect their children from the sun than themselves.

When asked how often adults with children or grandchildren under age 12 protect their kids from sun exposure when they are together, the great majority (83%) of these adults reported that they always or usually do protect them. However, when these same parents and grandparents were asked how careful they are to protect their own skin from sun exposure, only about two-thirds (68%) of these adults said that they are careful about protecting themselves.

“It is apparent from our survey that adults know that sun exposure is dangerous and are vigilant in protecting their kids, but for some reason they don’t perceive the sun as an equal threat to themselves,” said Dr. Rigel. “What adults need to realize is that they’re setting a bad example by not wearing sunscreen, hats and sunglasses themselves. Adults’ behavior sends a mixed message to kids that you don’t need to be as cautious about protecting your skin when you get older – which is completely untrue.”

The survey also found that household income made a difference in how likely adults were to protect their children from the sun. Of those respondents who were parents or grandparents, the number that said they protect their kids from the sun increased as household income increased – 71 percent of adults with household income up to $25,000 reported protecting their children from the sun vs. 93 percent of adults with household income of $75,000 or more.

Across geographical lines, the number of adults who said they protect their children from the sun was fairly equal – with adults in the north central region of the country slightly more likely (89 percent) to respond that they do than those in other areas of the country. Adults in the south, who have the most year-round chance of being in the sun with their kids, were slightly less likely (80 percent) to protect their kids than other regions.

A study published in the May 2000 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that 53 percent of parents surveyed reported applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher as their most frequent form of sun protection. However, the children who used sunscreen spent an average of nearly 22 percent more time in the sun on a weekend than children who were not using sunscreen – putting them at greater risk of sunburn.

“Using sunscreen properly is essential to preventing sunburn, meaning parents can’t just apply it once to their children and expect them to be protected all day,” said Dr. Rigel. “While sunscreen is important in preventing future skin cancers, parents need to use multiple forms of sun protection – such as covering up their kids with clothing and limiting their exposure to the sun during peak hours to ensure that they are properly protected. The fact is five or more sunburns double your risk of developing skin cancer.”

The study results were determined by a random sample telephone survey conducted among a national probability sample of 1,013 adults comprising 505 men and 508 women 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental United States. This CARAVAN® survey was conducted in January 2005 by Opinion Research Corporation (Princeton, N.J.) in collaboration with the Academy.

For more information about skin cancer, visit the Academy’s patient education Web site at



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