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College athletes unconcerned about skin cancer

Despite spending hours in the sun, most college athletes are lax about protecting their skin with sunscreen, a new survey suggests.
/ Source: Reuters

Despite spending hours in the sun, most college athletes are lax about protecting their skin with sunscreen, a new survey suggests.

Of the 186 athletes researchers surveyed during the summer practice season, 85 percent said they had not used sunscreen at all in the past week. Only a handful — 6 percent — said they’d used it on at least three days during the previous week.

The students often cited inconvenience or forgetfulness as the reasons they went without sun block. But a majority of the explanations they gave revealed some lack of understanding of the risks of sun exposure and the importance of using sunscreen, the survey found.

Dr. Brian Adams, the senior author of the study, described the athletes’ rate of sunscreen use as “abominable.”

These students, he told Reuters Health, are at particular risk from excessive sun exposure because they often practice during the hours when ultraviolet radiation is strongest — between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. — and because research suggests that sweaty skin burns more easily.

Sunscreen available in locker rooms?
One remedy to the inconvenience issue many students raised would be to make sunscreen available in locker rooms and at the playing field, said Adams, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio.

But along with such practical measures, he pointed to a need for a “change in culture.” As he said, “It’s certainly not considered cool to apply sunscreen before practice.”

The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, included soccer and cross-country teams from four universities who were surveyed about their sunscreen use and other characteristics, such as skin type.

Overall, 85 percent said they had not used sunscreen during the previous seven days of practice. Fair-skinned athletes were slightly more likely to have used sun block, but more than three-quarters had not.

In addition, none of the athletes who did use sunscreen reapplied it during practice — an important omission, particularly when the body is sweating.

Many of the reasons the students gave for not wearing sunscreen showed some level of misinformation, according to Adams. Some thought they didn’t need it because of their skin type, while others thought the weather or time of day made sun block unnecessary. A few thought their “base tan” would protect them getting burned.

Other reasons the athletes gave included “like to tan,” “only use sunscreen at the beach” and “dislike the smell of sunscreen.”

Coaches, according to Adams, could help boost sunscreen use by stressing the importance of skin cancer prevention, or even by requiring players to use it. Just like water or Gatorade, he said, sunscreen should become an essential supply in outdoor sports.