Men, Healthy Tans and Melanoma Prevention
The gender divide is real. Case in point: Men are less likely to wear sunscreen than women and more likely to believe in the concept of healthy tans. Chances are, they’re also less concerned about melanoma prevention. Yet according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma hits males harder than females.
Consider these eye-opening statistics about skin cancer in men:
- Starting at age 50, men are more likely than women to develop melanoma.
- Melanoma accounts for 6% of cases of new skin cancer in men compared to 4% in women.
- Melanoma survival rates are considerably lower for men. For example, males between ages 15 and 39 are 55% more likely to die of melanoma than females.
It may not have to be this way. If you’re a guy (or someone who loves a guy), knowing the facts about skin cancer in men and melanoma prevention could prove lifesaving.
Melanoma in men: Why the risk is different
Biological differences between the sexes make men’s skin more vulnerable to sun damage. But common attitudes and popular misconceptions are also to blame. Here’s a look at some reasons men are more likely to die of melanoma than women.
Men’s biology is different
Some research suggests that men have at least a couple of biological factors working against them when it comes to melanoma.
- Skin structure. Men tend to have thicker skin than women, with more collagen to support its structure and less fat. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, these differences can make men more vulnerable to sun damage. Compounding the problem, there’s some evidence that men’s skin doesn’t heal as well from sun damage.
- Hormones. A small study found that estrogen (the “female hormone”) may strengthen the immune system’s response to melanoma and help make treatment more effective. Other research suggests that testosterone (the “male hormone”) is linked to an increased risk of skin cancer.
Guys believe in healthy tans and lack skin cancer smarts
According to a survey from the American Academy of Dermatology, more men than women believe in healthy tans and think a “base tan” offers protection from harmful ultraviolet rays.
The truth is, even a carefully nurtured “base” tan provides little protection from sunburn — an SPF of only around 3 or 4, experts say. And any amount of frequent, unprotected exposure to UV rays from the sun or a tanning bed causes skin damage that can eventually turn into cancer. Even people who don’t burn are at risk for skin cancer, which means no tans are healthy tans. (People who do burn should know that getting five or more sunburns over the course of a lifetime doubles the risk of melanoma.)
Men are also less likely to know that skin cancer can develop in areas that don’t often see the sun, so they may not look for suspicious skin changes in places like their armpits or between their toes.
Men say no to sunblock and health screenings
Many women are in the habit of using a plethora of skin care products, from face cleansers to moisturizers to anti-aging serums, but a lot of men rarely use anything on their skin — including sunscreen. It’s probably no coincidence that sunscreen advertising rarely targets men. When is the last time you saw an ad for men’s sunscreen?
Guys are also notoriously doctor shy. They’re less likely than women to see a physician, including to have regular screenings or get a suspicious mole checked out. This means that early signs of skin cancer, such as a change in the shape or color of a mole, may go unevaluated.
Melanoma prevention tips for men
Men can follow the same skin-protection playbook women do and greatly improve their odds of avoiding skin cancer, including melanoma.
Use sunscreen every day, rain or shine
Wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 15 every day can lower the risk of skin cancer by as much as 50%, but dermatologists recommend an SPF of 30 or more. Reapply every couple of hours and after you get wet or sweaty.
Wear sun-protective clothing
When you’d normally go shirtless, spare your skin by wearing a sunscreen shirt or a rash guard (tight-fitting top made of synthetic fabric and designed to protect the skin from surfboards and boogie boards). More and more companies are making sun-protective clothing for men. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sun-protective clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50 blocks 98% of UVA and UVB rays.
Keep an eye out for skin changes
The American Cancer Society advises doing a skin self-exam once a month, ideally after a shower or bath. Check everywhere, including your scalp, armpits, genitals, between your toes and under your toenails. Look for symptoms of melanoma such as new growths, moles that change appearance or look different from other moles, and sores that bleed or scab over but don’t heal. Use a mirror to check your back and other hard-to-see areas. Better yet, if you have a partner, ask them to scan your skin.
Get regular screenings
The Skin Cancer Foundation advises yearly skin checks for people at average skin cancer risk. If you’ve had skin cancer in the past, your dermatologist may recommend more frequent screenings.
Medically reviewed by Todd Williams, MSN, DCNP
Written by Maura Rhodes, a health writer and editor based in Montclair, New Jersey.