Skin-Cancer Survivors Only Slightly Less Terrible at Using Sunscreen Than the Rest of Us

Photo: Ekaterina Pokrovsky

Good news: People who’ve had skin cancer are more likely to use sunscreen and wear hats and long sleeves than the general population. But the general population is garbage at these things, so it’s actually not much to brag about.

A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology compared the skin-protection habits of 758 people with a history of non-melanoma skin cancers — the most common type — versus those of more than 34,000 people without a previous skin cancer.

They found that skin-cancer survivors were more likely than the general population to use sunscreen (54 percent versus 33 percent), wear wide-brimmed hats (26 percent versus 11 percent), wear long sleeves (21 percent versus 8 percent), and seek shade outdoors (44 percent versus 27 percent). But, really, the numbers should be much, much higher for both groups.

Plus, they found that people with a history of cancer didn’t have lower odds of sunburns even after the researchers accounted for the fact that some people burn more easily than others. Not awesome since survivors have a high risk of developing future skin cancers.

A dermatologist not involved in the study said that most sunburns in cancer survivors aren’t from deliberately trying to get a tan; they’re more likely to come from everyday exposures like walks. Another said it can be surprisingly hard to break bad sun habits even in people who’ve had cancers removed.

Cancer history or not, sunscreen is great if you’d rather not have spotted, wrinkly skin or face the possibility of needing pieces of it to be hacked out.