Sunscreen Knowledge and Sun Protective Behaviors among Medical Students at a Southern US Institution

Main Article Content

Meagan Olivet
Lauren C.S. Kole


sunscreen, medical students, sun protection, photoaging, tanning, culture


Literature has demonstrated that medical students have discrepancies in their knowledge and their execution of best practices concerning sun protection. Additionally, despite knowing the harms of tanning, medical students acknowledge that they desire tan skin. A survey was sent to medical students at a Southeastern institution to determine their knowledge of sun safety and their personal practices. The survey was distributed through institutional emails and student messaging applications. Current medical students at the home institution were eligible to complete the survey. The survey was designed with guidelines from the American Academy of Dermatology in mind. Chi-square analysis was performed by SPSS Version (14). The majority of medical students are knowledgeable of best sun protective practices, though many students do not carry out these practices. For example, 88% of students know to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours; however, only 28% always reapply at the correct interval. Several demographic differences were present between self-reported race and gender groups in the knowledge, behaviors, and tanning questions. Medical students are knowledgeable of best practices for preventing sun damage; however, their personal behaviors can deviate and societal pressure for some students to have “tanned” skin is challenging to overcome.


1. Holman DM, Berkowitz Z, Guy GP Jr, Hawkins NA, Saraiya M, Watson M. Patterns of sunscreen use on the face and other exposed skin among US adults. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2015 Jul;73(1):83-92.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2015.02.1112. Epub 2015 May 19. PMID: 26002066; PMCID: PMC4475428.

2. Dennis  LK, Vanbeek  MJ, Beane Freeman  LE, Smith  BJ, Dawson  DV, Coughlin  JA.  Sunburns and risk of cutaneous melanoma: does age matter? a comprehensive meta-analysis.  Ann Epidemiol. 2008;18(8):614-627.

3. US Department of Health and Human Services.  The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. Washington, DC: US Dept of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2014.

4. Abroms L, Jorgensen CM, Southwell BG, Geller AC, Emmons KM. Gender differences in young adults' beliefs about sunscreen use. Health Educ Behav. 2003 Feb;30(1):29-43. doi: 10.1177/1090198102239257. PMID: 12564666.

5. Holman DM, Ding H, Guy GP, Watson M, Hartman AM, Perna FM. Prevalence of Sun Protection Use and Sunburn and Association of Demographic and Behaviorial Characteristics With Sunburn Among US Adults. JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(5):561–568. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.0028

6. Novitasari, Triana & Prajitno, Subur & Indramaya, Diah. (2020). Behavior of Sunscreen Usage Among Medical Students. Berkala Ilmu Kesehatan Kulit dan Kelamin. 32. 174. 10.20473/bikk.V32.3.2020.174-181.

7. Ivanov NN, Swan A, Guseman EH, Whipps J, Jensen LL, Beverly EA. Medical Students' Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors With Regard to Skin Cancer and Sun-Protective Behaviors. J Am Osteopath Assoc. Jul 1 2018;118(7):444-454. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2018.098

8. Cheng C.E., Irwin B., Mauriello D. Health disparities among different ethnic and racial middle and high school students in sun exposure beliefs and knowledge. J. Adolesc. Health. 2010;47(1):106–109. 

9. Lunsford NB, Berktold J, Holman DM, Stein K, Prempeh A, Yerkes A. Skin cancer knowledge, awareness, beliefs and preventive behaviors among black and hispanic men and women. Preventive Medicine Reports. 2018 Dec (12): 203-209. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2018.09.017.

10. Chen J, Shih J, Tran A, Mullane A, Thomas C, Aydin N, Misra S. Gender-Based Differences and Barriers in Skin Protection Behaviors in Melanoma Survivors. J Skin Cancer. 2016;2016:3874572. doi: 10.1155/2016/3874572. Epub 2016 Aug 25. PMID: 27648306; PMCID: PMC5014947.

11. Neenan A, Suzanne Lea C, Lesesky EB. Reasons for Tanning Bed Use: A Survey of Community College Students in North Carolina. North Carolina Medical Journal. 2012;73(2):89. doi:10.18043/ncm.73.2.89

12. Meghan M. Gillen & Charlotte N. Markey (2012) The Role of Body Image and Depression in Tanning Behaviors and Attitudes, Behavioral Medicine, 38:3, 74-82, DOI: 10.1080/08964289.2012.685499

13. Ashley K. Day, Carlene J. Wilson, Amanda D. Hutchinson & Rachel M. Roberts (2017) Australian young adults’ tanning behaviour: The role of ideal skin tone and sociocultural norms, Australian Journal of Psychology, 69:2, 86-94, DOI: 10.1111/ajpy.12121

14. Heckman CJ, Coups EJ, Manne SL. Prevalence and correlates of indoor tanning among US adults. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008 May;58(5):769-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2008.01.020. Epub 2008 Mar 6. PMID: 18328594; PMCID: PMC2601681.

15. McWhirter, J.E., Hoffman-Goetz, L. Coverage of Skin Cancer Risk Factors and UV Behaviors in Popular U.S. Magazines from 2000 to 2012. J Canc Educ 31, 382–388 (2016).

16. Jennifer E. McWhirter, Laurie Hoffman-Goetz, Systematic review of population-based studies on the impact of images on UV attitudes and behaviours, Health Promotion International, Volume 30, Issue 2, June 2015, Pages 397–410,

17. Williams AL, Grogan S, Clark-Carter D, Buckley E. Appearance-based interventions to reduce ultraviolet exposure and/or increase sun protection intentions and behaviours: a systematic review and meta-analyses. Br J Health Psychol. 2013 Feb;18(1):182-217. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8287.2012.02089.x. Epub 2012 Sep 18. PMID: 22989352.

18. Mahler H, Kulik J, Gerrard M, Gibbons F. Long-term effects of appearance-based interventions on sun protection behaviors. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association. 06/01 2007;26:350-60. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.26.3.350

19. Liu, Barankin, B., Howard, J., & Guenther, L. C. (2001). One-Year Followup on the Impact of a Sun Awareness Curriculum on Medical Students’ Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behavior. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, 5(3), 193–200.

20. The University of Alabama at Birmingham Heersink School of Medicine. 2022 Match Results by Residency Type. March 2022. Accessed November 15, 2022.

21. Carlos S, Rico-Campà A, Fuente-Arrillaga C, Echavarri M, Fernandez-Montero A, Gea A, Salazar C, Martínez-González MA. Do healthy doctors deliver better messages of health promotion to their patients?: Data from the SUN cohort study. European Journal of Public Health. 2020 June; 30) Volume 30 (3): 438-444.

22. Vasicek BE, Szpunar SM, Manz-Dulac LA. Patient Knowledge of Sunscreen Guidelines and Frequency of Physician Counseling: A Cross-sectional Study. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2018 Jan;11(1):35-40. Epub 2018 Jan 1. PMID: 29410729; PMCID: PMC5788267.

Most read articles by the same author(s)