Over half of surveyed HK residents have experienced sunburn, nearly 80% do not use sunscreen daily

Insert picture: Chan Lam

11th July 2024 – (Hong Kong) A recent study conducted by the Centre for Communication and Public Opinion Survey at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has highlighted a critical gap in the public’s awareness of sun protection. According to the study, over half of the respondents have experienced sunburn or are currently suffering from related skin issues such as pigmentation and melanin deposits, with nearly 80% admitting to not applying sunscreen daily.

The research, which involved telephone interviews with 507 residents aged 18 and above in April this year, uncovered a series of misconceptions about sun protection. Only 21% of respondents consistently use sunscreen daily, while 46% do not use it at all. About 33% reported occasional use.

These findings are alarming given the high risks associated with prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, including skin ageing, the risk of skin cancer, and other dermatological conditions. Dr. Chan Lam, Honorary Clinical Assistant Professor of The University of Hong Kong, noted that although the dangers of UV exposure such as sunburn, tanning, and skin ageing are generally recognised, many are unaware of its role in causing wrinkles and increasing the risk of cataracts—over 60% of those surveyed were unaware of the latter.

Dr. Lam also pointed out several widespread myths about sunscreen application. For example, some believe that individuals with naturally darker skin or those not spending time directly under the sun do not need sunscreen. Others mistakenly think that a single application of sunscreen or using makeup with SPF is sufficient for all-day protection.

“Regardless of skin tone, weather conditions, or whether one plans to be indoors or outdoors, applying sunscreen is essential,” Dr. Lam advises. She recommends using at least a coin-sized amount of sunscreen on the face and ensuring that exposed areas such as the neck and limbs are also protected.

The study also suggests that individuals often underestimate the amount of sunscreen needed and fail to reapply it, especially over makeup, which can diminish its effectiveness. Dr. Lam emphasises the importance of understanding sunscreen labels: SPF ratings are intended to protect against UVB rays and prevent skin from burning and turning red, while PA or PPD ratings protect against UVA rays, helping to prevent tanning, spots, and photoaging.

In addition to using sunscreen, Dr. Lam advises adopting other protective measures such as wearing broad-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and opting for dense, loose-fitting clothing with long sleeves to minimise UV exposure.