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Attitudes to sun protection

The effect of behaviour and beliefs on the effective use of sunscreen

(Julie Barratt, Melanie Jenkins, Celvin Davies - Chartered Institute of Environmental Health)

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Exposure to ultra violet radiation is the principal cause of skin cancer and much effort has been expended in educating the general public about ways in which they can protect themselves against over exposure to UV radiation through use of sunscreen. Using a questionnaire this research sought to ascertain whether the study group understood how sunscreen should be used and whether those who claimed to use sunscreen did so in such a way as to afford them the maximum protection.

Questions were also asked about the relative dangers of using sunbeds as compared with that of being exposed to natural sunlight. A sample of 202 adults attending an outdoor activities in South Wales was interviewed.

The study shows that there is a high level of understanding of the need for protection against over exposure to the sun but that the practice of protection is poor, leading to a strong optimistic bias in favour of the adequacy of protection, possibly creating over-exposure.

There is misunderstanding about the relative safety of "natural" tans when compared to tans obtained using UV tanning equipment. We recommend that health practitioners build on the existing recognition of the need for protection and devise and promulgate strong messages about the way in which protection should be managed to avoid over exposure and the consequent elevated risk of developing skin cancer.