A stained glass sun and rays with a clock, long sleeved shirt, and sunscreen.

Why Don't Older People Protect Their Skin Better?

“You’re older, so we will have you just guard this young lady making a phone call to her attorney.” This is what I was told by the Second Assistant Director of a television show. I'm an actor, and we were filming a few scenes in a sound stage set up as a New York City police precinct station. It was set in the 1990’s and I was a police officer “guarding” a tiny lady making an imaginary phone call on an extinct payphone in the station. Other, more robust (younger) actors were escorting more robust handcuffed perpetrators around. Once again, it hit me. I am no spring chicken.

Skin care practices and aging

I have come to embrace this stage of my life (most of the time). Knowing that I can order off the back page of my favorite pancake house gives me solace and comfort. What doesn’t give me solace and comfort is an article I came across the other day from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding skin care practices and senior adults in the United States.

Seniors and skin care

I wrote an article about skin cancer and seniors last year outlining some of the issues many in my cohort face. The CDC article that I uncovered recently digs deeply into some of the skin cancer practices and behaviors that may be putting baby boomers (defined as those born after World War 2 and before 1965) at risk.

We need to do better

In short, recent studies show that less than 50% of these seniors protect their skin when outside for more than an hour in the sun. This is significant in part because this generation remains a huge part of our population.

This research identified five different behaviors related to good skin care practice:

  • Being in the shade
  • The use of sunscreen
  • Wearing a broad brimmed hat
  • Wearing clothing that covers legs
  • Wearing clothing that covers arms

Two key findings of the research hit home with me

  • Very few seniors used each of these sun-protective measures
  • And worse, yet, less than 20% indicated that they used any kind of skin protection on a regular basis

Why aren't seniors taking care of their skin?

According to the research, four out of five seniors do nothing to protect their skin regularly. For me, this means that it is very possible that there are golf foursomes taking in hours of sun every day with zero protection. Why is this? How can this be?

I wanted to know, so I asked around, and here is what I heard

  • “I don’t worry about skin cancer. If I get it, they can just burn it off.”
  • “Skin cancer is minor, and a good tan never hurt anyone.”
  • “Once in a while I will put on sunscreen if I remember.”
  • “I’m more concerned with my long game (golf term for long-distance shots) than being in the sun. After all, we need Vitamin D.”
  • “I’m only out for a few hours. It’s not like I am sitting on the beach all day.”

Awareness is key

Breaking this down, it seems like these folks don’t understand the dangers of skin cancer nor how to protect themselves. They equate being tan with good health. They focus on their outside activity rather than the consequences of that activity. They don’t understand that even short periods in the sun can burn unprotected skin.

We need to stop minimizing skin cancer

In other words, they are not informed and this is informing their choices. I fear that as long as skin cancer is minimized to these levels behaviors will not change. Wearing long sleeves and pants and lathering up in (and reapplying) sunscreen may seem too high of a price to pay when people don’t take this seriously.

What advice do you have for seniors who aren't protecting their skin?

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