The Context of Sunburn Among U.S. Adults: Common Activities and Sun Protection Behaviors

Published:February 12, 2021DOI:


      Sunburn increases skin cancer risk and is common among U.S. adults. However, little is known about the contexts in which sunburns often occur. The purpose of this study is to examine the contextual factors surrounding sunburns among U.S. adults.


      Cross-sectional data from a 2018 online panel survey were analyzed. A total of 4,088 panel members were recruited by mail using probability-based, random sampling by address. Respondents were asked about their most recent sunburn, and analyses were limited to those who remembered their most recent sunburn (N=3,106). Data were weighted to match the U.S. Current Population Survey proportions; analyses were conducted in 2018 and 2019.


      Participants’ age ranged from 18 to 93 years. About half (50.8%) were women, and most (82.3%) were non-Hispanic White adults. Swimming or spending time in water (32.5%), working outside at home (26.2%), traveling/vacationing (20.7%), and engaging in nonswimming physical activity (14.2%) were the most frequently reported activities. Using sunscreen on the face, neck, and chest (38.8%) and on the body (19.9%) and wearing sunglasses (34.2%) were the most frequently reported sun safety behaviors. Wearing clothes to the ankles (6.6%) and a long-sleeved shirt (4.5%) were least frequently reported.


      This study provides new information about the contexts in which adult sunburns often occur, especially about contexts unrelated to intentional tanning, which was relatively infrequent. The results suggest the need to promote multiple forms of sun protection tailored to specific outdoor activities and develop innovative solutions for outdoor physical and aquatic activities, which present unique sun safety challenges.
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