Are You Using Protection?

Sunscreen use among middle and high school students is increasing, but not across all racial and ethnic groups.

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Read Time: 2 minutes


Just because it’s fall doesn’t mean we can stop protecting our skin from the sun. Sunscreen is something to use year-round, especially if you spend a lot of time outside. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen every day, rain or shine. However, few people use sunscreen as recommended.

Only 1 in 10 Americans use sunscreen daily, and almost half report never using sun protection. Sunscreen helps protect against cancer and photoaging. Starting at six months old, everyone should be using sunscreen when outside. However, it’s never too late to start using sunscreen and benefit from the protective layer.

Geethanjali Rajagopal and colleagues analyzed sunscreen use trends among middle and high school students in the U.S. from 2007-2019. To do this, they took data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Surveys (YRBSS) collected by the CDC.

The researchers found sunscreen use increased over the 12 years. However, there is racial and ethnic disparity. White children used sunscreen most frequently; Black children used sunscreen least frequently. Not all children had increased sunscreen use from 2007-2019. Asian and Native American or other Pacific Islander children decreased use during this period.

The authors note a variety of factors that may influence children using skin protection including the cost of products, tanning activities, and different sociocultural perceptions of sunscreen. Black and Hispanic youth may be less aware of the risks associated with sun exposure.  Previous studies looking at skin cancer knowledge among Black and Hispanic individuals found a majority of participants believe they were at lower risk of skin cancer due to having a darker skin tone.

Social media, like Instagram, helped teach youth that sunscreen can prevent cancer. However, the racial and ethnic gaps in sunscreen use are widening. Education needs to reach higher-risk groups, perhaps targeting schools that serve primarily children of color.

Databyte via Geethanjali Rajagopal, Rachna Talluri, Valerie S Chuy, An-Lin Cheng, Lawrence Dall, Trends in Sunscreen Use Among US Middle and High School Students, 2007-2019. Cureus, 2021.