Respondents did not know how long they needed to be outside to get adequate vitamin D.
A survey by Health Canal found that only 16% of Americans always wear sunscreen in the summer, even on cloudy days.1 The 12-question online survey of 1065 US adults was taken on June 29, 2023, to learn about UV protection methods and beliefs about sun exposure.
Although the top reason given for sun exposure was for vitamin D production (63%), most respondents did not know how much sun they needed to get for vitamin D. According to Elle de Moll, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist at Dermatology Physicians of Connecticut, “It [UV exposure] depends on the UV index as well as the amount of melanin, how light or dark your skin is, to determine the length of time.”
The next most frequently cited reasons for spending time outside were for relaxation and enjoyment (57.8%) and exposure when running errands (58%). The survey also found that 36% of adults spend time in the sun to get a tan because they believe tans are attractive.
“UV causes micro damage in DNA. Initially, our repair mechanisms fix these, but over time they add up. The little breaks in DNA can lead to skin cancer over time. Thus, there is no ‘safe tan,’ since every tan demonstrates your body is sensing the dangers of UV rays,” said de Moll.
Use of sunscreen was the most common method of sun protection, followed by staying indoors and finding shade.
Unfortunately, only 42% reported being extremely aware of the harmful effects of UV rays, such as sunburn, premature aging, and an increased risk of skin cancer, while 17% said they are somewhat aware. Redness was always experienced after sun exposure by 10% of respondents, and 8% reported a burning sensation after sun exposure. Blisters regularly occurred 5% of the time.
US adults also reported wearing sunscreen less often in the fall (13%) than in the spring (20%). Among top reasons for not wearing sunscreen were a lack of awareness about UV damage and forgetting to apply or reapply sunscreen.
With a top reason for sun exposure cited as vitamin D production, clinicians can inform patients of other ways to get vitamin D, such as food, as well as the many factors that are involved in determining how much sun is enough and how much is too much.