Expert advice: Addressing men’s resistance to skin protection

By Brandon May | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published April 28, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Sun protection using sunscreen, protective clothing, and other shielding behaviors may play a significant role in preventing skin cancer and premature skin aging.

  • Despite the benefits of sun protection, men are less likely than women to use products containing SPF, according to research

  • Clinicians need to communicate the benefits of sunscreen use and potential risks of non-use to male patients, as this may increase their use and help prevent skin cancer.

Dermatologists and other physicians and healthcare professionals are at the forefront of encouraging and reinforcing sun protection habits in their patients. Despite the beneficial effects of sunscreen use in preventing skin cancer and premature aging, certain subpopulations may lack adequate skin care habits that incorporate SPF products.[]

Men, for instance, are consistently identified as the least likely population to use sunscreen daily. A new study further highlights this trend and provides novel insights into the effects of poor skin care habits on the properties of the skin in these individuals.

In exclusive interviews with MDLinx, two prominent dermatologists offered insights on this disparity between genders, suggesting possible ways physicians can help close this gap.

Impact of suboptimal sun protection on men

Despite the benefits of sunscreen, men may be less likely to use SPF-containing products on a regular basis. A recent study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology focused on sunscreen utilization and skincare habits of young men.[]

The study included 60 male participants between 18 and 28 years of age. They were grouped into those who engaged in regular photoprotection and those who did not. Findings revealed 60% of participants didn’t use sunscreen often, and 80% of participants didn’t use any other skin care product.

These findings echo a 2021 study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology which reported that 83% of men didn’t use sunscreen daily.[] Of the variables studied, only higher income was associated with greater use of sunscreen in male respondents.

Age, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and region weren’t significantly associated with sunscreen use.

Primary motivators for daily sunscreen use included reducing the risk of skin cancer (82%) and looking younger (42%).

Upping men’s sun protection use

In an MDLinx interview, Allison Darland, MD, said several studies have shown that sunscreen use is less common among men compared with women, and the reasons for this discrepancy are largely related to sociocultural factors.

A dermatologist at University of Michigan Health, Darland wasn’t involved in the research but explained that many men may feel uncomfortable applying sunscreen in front of same-sexed peers and/or may not feel comfortable asking these peers for help applying sunscreen in hard-to-reach areas.

Darland added that, given that men are also less likely to have a routine skin care regimen, they’re likewise less inclined to use sunscreen daily.

Dermatologist S. Max Vale, MD, acting instructor in the Dermatology division at the University of Washington School of Medicine, told MDLinx that sunscreens are often found in stores’ beauty and cosmetics sections, generally designed to attract female customers.

"There has been, to some degree, a ‘gendering’ of sunscreen and SPF, which I think makes men less likely to use it. "

S. Max Vale, MD

While photoprotection may confer significant long-term benefits in terms of reducing photoaging and preventing or delaying premature aging, Darland noted that this isn’t a substantial concern or driver for sunscreen use in men overall. “Men may be less motivated by the anti-aging properties of regular SPF use,” she explained.

The skin cancer factor

“Sunscreen use is important in skin cancer prevention,” Darland commented. “The incidence of melanoma is rising, and some studies have shown this incidence is rising more rapidly in men compared to women.”

Vale also noted that men are more likely to develop skin cancer, and pointed out that they have more adverse outcomes from skin cancer than women. “This is one of the key reasons why getting men to start using daily sunscreen is so crucial,” he said, “since skin cancer is preventable in most patients with adequate and regular sun protective behaviors."

Although gay and bisexual men may be more likely than heterosexual men to use sunscreen, Vale added, they’re also more likely to use indoor tanning beds.

Target men in messaging

There is a need for clinicians to incorporate greater sun protection messaging—particularly messages that target male patients—in clinical practice.

“Reinforcing that tanning beds are not safer than the sun, that getting a ‘base tan’ does not protect against future sunburn but instead damages the skin, and encouraging alternative ways to tan is very important in this population,” Vale asserted.

Proper and clear messaging is important, and so is the manner in which it is conveyed. Friendly communication by the physician has a great influence on patient satisfaction and can help motivate the patient to follow the clinician’s recommendations.[]

"There is more to it than just ‘apply sunscreen.’ "

Allison Darland, MD

“Counseling on what SPF to use, how frequently to apply, and how much to apply is important for adequate sun protection,” she added.

However, Darland acknowledged that many providers, particularly those in primary care, may not have adequate time or resources to counsel patients on sunscreen use.

What this means for you

It's important for dermatologists and primary care physicians to stress sunscreen use to male patients, who are less likely than women to use sun-protective products. Men often lack a skin care routine, so a key reminder for them would be to apply sunscreen daily. This is particularly pertinent for men at lower income levels. Despite their infrequent use of sunscreen, men are motivated to prevent skin cancer. Even with limited time for office visits, clinicians can convey the cancer prevention message.

Related: FDA raises concerns: Are sunscreens actually safe?
Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter