The Rate of Deadly Skin Cancer Has Doubled Over the Last Three Decades

*reaches for the sunscreen*

Sunburnt woman wearing a black and white bikini top
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Because we're not slathering ourselves in baby oil or holding UV reflectors like our mothers' generation in did in hopes of a bronzed glow—skin cancer doesn't feel so much like our problem. After all, there's so much awareness, with more public education and frequent checks than ever, how could things have not improved?

Shockingly enough, a new The Vital Signs report shows that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. and the amount of melanoma cases has DOUBLED over the last three decades. Scariest of all, it also says that without communal prevention efforts, deadly skin cancers like melanoma will continue to increase over the next 15 years.

"The rate of people getting melanoma continues to increase every year compared to the rates of most other cancers, which are declining," said Lisa Richardson, MD, MPH, Director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.

As for why, it's a mix of reasons. For one, people are still tanning—not just in beds, but also the beach and in the park. "We're seeing older patients now that are paying the price for a lifetime of sun exposure," explains Dr. Rachel Nazarian at Schweiger Dermatology Group. "It takes decades to see the manifestation of radiation."

It's also very much the sartorial climate, as clothing styles, particularly swimwear, have become drastically more revealing over the years, says Nazarian.

"If we take action now, we can prevent hundreds of thousands of new cases of skin cancers, including melanoma, and save billions of dollars in medical costs," says Richardson

Vital Signs' solutions for community-wide prevention include increasing shade in public spaces, promoting sun protection in all schools, places of work, and beyond.

As for individual care, it's all about using broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen, finding shade wherever possible, wearing wide-brimmed hats, and donning protective clothing. For the latter, the more skin you cover, the better, and tightly-woven fabrics, like denim, will provide more protection. When it comes to color, the more the intense the hue, the better the UV defense. Not-so-fun fact: a white tee shirt only has an SPF of 3.

As far as the numbers game, here's the gist: SPF 15 blocks about 93 to 95 percent of UVB rays, while an SPF 30 filters about 97 percent. Going up to SPF 50 doesn't that make much of a difference.

"A broad-spectrum SPF 15 to 30 is fine on a regular day, but a tinted moisturizer with sunscreen doesn't count," says NYC dermatologist Dr. Gervaise Gerstner. "You don't put on enough makeup to give you effective protection."

And while your face is often the top priority, don't ignore your other exposed body parts like your shoulders, arms, décolletage, and legs, which are also at risk and will show signs of aging over time.

For more information, read The Vital Signs report here and see our guide for the most common mistakes that are made when it comes to sunscreen.

Lauren Valenti
Beauty Editor

Lauren is the former beauty editor at Marie Claire. She love to while away the hours at coffee shops, hunt for vintage clothes, and bask in the rough-and-tumble beauty of NYC. She firmly believes that solitude can be a luxury if you’ve got the right soundtrack—that being the Rolling Stones, of course.