The United States surgeon general, in an unprecedented move, issued a call to action Tuesday for Americans to apply sun protection to prevent skin cancer.
"Until today, the surgeon general has never said, 'UV radiation is bad for you; protect your skin,'" acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak told CNN. "We have to change the social norms about tanning... Tanned skin is damaged skin, and we need to shatter the myth that tanned skin is a sign of health."
Skin cancer has been on the rise, the call to action notes, with nearly 5 million people treated for all skin cancers combined each year in the U.S. The rates of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has increased more than 200 percent from 1973 to 2011.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set several major goals for communities to decrease the risk of skin cancer, Lushniak wrote in the report:
We recommend that communities provide shade in recreational and play areas to help protect children from overexposure to UV radiation, that businesses increase availability of sun protection for outdoor workers, that policy makers promote policies for shade panning in land use development, and that health providers counsel patients on the importance of using sun protection.
The report also condemns indoor tanning, noting that "no evidence exists to suggest that indoor tanning is safer than tanning outdoors or confers any substantial protection from future sun exposure." It goes on to point out American's lack of awareness around skin cancer, stating that "a substantial segment of U.S. adults also do not perceive cancer as preventable and thus may be less likely to engage in skin cancer prevention practices... Reported barriers to sunscreen use include a perception that it is too messy, inconvenient, or feminine."
All of this, the report adds, means that social norms involving tanned skin being attractive, win out over proper protection. Therefore, Americans must pursue five distinct goals to support skin cancer prevention, including:
- Increasing opportunities for sun protection in outdoor settings,
- Providing people with information to raise awareness,
- Promoting policies that can help change social norms,
- Reducing the harms of indoor tanning, and
- Promoting research related to skin care prevention.
The move comes after Monday's passing of the Sunscreen Innovation Act by the House of Representatives, which would create a review process for all manufacturers submitting a new sunscreen to the FDA. (Goal number 3, check.)