Why men are more prone to sunburn than women

Men, wearing long shorts and sandals, showing sunburn on legs
Men are at a higher risk of sunburn and the longterm effects, according to data. (Getty Images)

Summer is nearly here and with the weather hopefully changing for the better, it’s time to dig out the shorts and the sandals and prepare to enjoy those long, lazy days. But it’s also time to seek out the sunscreen.

Trouble is, too many of us fail to protect ourselves and the issue, according to research, is especially prevalent among men. One YouGov survey revealed that men were twice as likely as women to forget about using protection from the sun, with 31% of those polled admitting they never use sunscreen, compared to just 15% of women.

And that means the pain, embarrassment and potential longterm effects of sunburn.

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For most people, sunburn will be a temporary inconvenience but if it happens regularly you will put yourself at a greater risk of developing skin cancer, with Cancer Research UK’s date revealing that suffering sunburn just once every two years can triple your chance of getting melanoma, a disease that kills around 2,000 people each year in the United Kingdom.

Overexposure to the ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is also the main cause of skin cancer in the UK, with one in five of the population suffering from it.

Man with extreme sunburn on his torso
Men are almost twice as likely to die from skin cancers, the NHS states. (Getty Images)

There were over 224,000 skin cancers recorded in England alone in 2019 and it’s men who are most at risk. Whether it’s bravado or ignorance, men are less likely to use sunscreen and, as a consequence, are almost twice as likely to die from skin cancer than women, according to the NHS. Since the 1970s, male mortality rates from skin cancer have tripled.

Dr Angela Tewari is a Consultant Dermatologist at The Lister Hospital (part of HCA Healthcare UK). She explains that there are some good reasons why men are more prone to skin cancer – and it’s not just their reluctance to use protection from the sun.

“Men are likely to spend more time outdoors and in the sun than women, usually through certain lines of work, which increases the risk of developing skin cancer," says Dr Tewari. "Women also tend to also have SPF and sun protection included within their cosmetic and make-up products, which are markedly helpful too.”

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Men’s predilection to whip off their tops when the sun starts to shine can also be a factor. “Usually, men are diagnosed at a later stage than women, with skin cancers often found on their torso or back, potentially by going shirtless when it’s hot,” says Dr Tewari.

“Unfortunately, this makes it harder to identify anything unusual or notice changes to the skin as they men also don’t present to hospital as frequently as women.”

But even those that do use sunscreen can be susceptible to burning, with 47% of women admitting to using ineffective sun creams, or just using it incorrectly, and a massive 58% of men doing the same.

It’s not as simple as just slapping the sun lotion on whenever you’re out in the sun.

Man applying suncream to his arm
Get clued up on what you're looking for in a suncream. (Getty Images)

According to the NHS, you should always be looking to use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and check the expiry date too as most sun protection products won’t last more than two or three years.

Ideally, you need to apply it at least 20 minutes before you head out so that your skin can really absorb it. Applying it properly is key too. In 2017, a study by the University of Liverpool revealed that people miss an average of 10% of their faces when they apply their sunscreen while failure to reapply it and top up during the day can also lead to greater risk of sunburn. It’s also wise to take some time out and sit in the shade whenever the sun is at its hottest.

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Wear protection even when it’s not particularly sunny. Men might want to try a daily moisturiser with an SPF of 30, making sure they cover all those exposed areas that are more vulnerable to sunburn, like face, neck, scalp, lips and legs.

“Whilst it’s key that men stick to these tips, it’s even more important for those who have a higher risk of getting skin damage, such as if you have a family history of skin cancer, if you have fair or freckled skin, or you have lots of moles,” adds Dr Tewari. “If you fall under at least one of these risk factors, you will need to protect yourself more than someone without these risk factors.”

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Regular monitoring of your skin can also help detect any abnormalities, so every couple of months check any moles or marks on the skin for any changes in their shape, size or colour. Look out for crusty or scaly patches of skin that appear red or inflamed, flesh-coloured or scrappy lumps that appear to be getting bigger or any growth with a central crater that has a pearly rim.

“Non-melanoma skin cancers usually develop on skin that is exposed to the sun, such as the head and neck, but they can sometimes occur on areas of the skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight,” says Dr Tewari. “Their appearance can vary but they normally appear gradually and slowly increase in size.”

The good news is that most non-melanoma skin cancer can be treated effectively – and cured – if they’re detected early enough but if you are worried it’s always best to seek help from a dermatologist or a doctor.