12 Tips for Getting Your Patients to Wear Sunscreen

April 29, 2016

3.3 million Americans will be diagnosed with basal and squamous cell skin cancers this year even though skin cancer is primarily preventable. But while this fact is alarming, people still need to be convinced to use it!

So how can each of us move the needle with sunscreen use for patients on whom you can have a direct impact? We asked our expert CSF faculty for their insights – and they came out in droves to respond! The topic is near and dear to our hearts and the plethora of replies is evidence as to how hard we all work to protect our patients’ skin health.

Tip #1: Julie Woodward

“I work with eyes, so I tell patients that they mustn’t forget their eyelids because the eye lids comprise 1% of the surface area of the body, but 10% of skin cancers.”

Tip #2: Hema Sundaram

“A key to improving patient compliance with sunscreen is to offer different formulations to suit different preferences. For example, a female patient who wears makeup is unlikely to reapply sunscreen lotion during the day because it will spoil her makeup. In my office, we offer sunscreen in mineral powder, oil-free lotion, emollient cream and spray formulations.”

Tip #3: Amy Taub

“I say this [to patients]: People always ask me, “Do I really need to put on sunscreen even if I just am going out on a couple of errands a day?” And I say, “Why don’t you eat a cookie every time you get in your car for an errand. Would you gain weight by the end of the year? That is what the sun does to your face, one cookie at a time. And the sun goes through window glass too, so keeping your windows rolled up won’t work.”

Tip #4: Kevin Smith:

I encourage patients by telling them it doesn’t have to be expensive to protect their skin. “There is no correlation between price and quality for sunscreens, so if you find two or three you like, buy the least expensive one.”

Tip #5: Mark Rubin:

“I have the patient look at the skin on the inside and the outside surface of their forearm. I tell them the skin is the same age on both sides but the inner side has been sun protected and that”s why it looks so much better. So if sun protection can make that much of a difference in their skin, why would you want to skip sunscreen when it will keep your skin younger looking. That usually works very well.”

Tip 6: Melanie Palm

“A visual is always helpful. I tell patients that most of us under apply our sunscreen by about 50%. I tell them about a shot glass of sunscreen (1 oz.) is needed for proper full body protection.”

Tip #7: Joe Niamtu

“I show younger patients my skin as I was not a compliant user. It helps with young patients.”

Tip 8: Jeannette Graf

“I have often noticed that during the winter months when taking a tropical vacation and getting major sun exposure all of a sudden – even if the sunscreen is applied correctly – sunburns are frequent. Therefore, I advise patients when planning a tropical holiday during winter to apply a high broad spectrum SPF all over every night for one month since there is a collective buildup of sun protective ingredients on the skin. This has worked each time.”

Tip #9: Michael Gold

“With most of my patients, especially younger ones, I explain how beneficial sunscreens are and that if used regularly, they are the best tools we have to prevent skin cancer. Sometimes, to drive the point home, I’ll show a skin cancer and the [resulting] Moh’s surgery defect that was needed to repair the skin cancer – that drives the point home for many.”

Tip #10: Jeanine Downie

“I actually show them how rapidly they are aging in a hand mirror. I talk to them about their cosmetic goals and how important reapplying sunscreen is on a daily basis.”

Tip #11: Marc Darst

“One of my residency directors said, ‘The best sunscreen is the one that the patient will actually use.’ We do sell [sunscreens in our office], but if the patient has a favorite, I tell them that is fine with me. They just need to use it.”

Tip #12: Suneel Chilukuri:

“I ask all family members, friends and patients to put their sunscreen bottle under or right next to their toothbrush. Presuming everyone brushes his or her teeth in the morning, he or she will remember to apply sunscreen.”

by Natasha Mohr

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  • Hi,

    Great post indeed. I love his article. You have explained each and everything in a very impressive manner. Thanks for sharing such a good information. Keep it up.

    Dr Jale

  • Thank you for endorsing the recommendation. I personally live the advice I give to patients. My bathroom countertop has my sunscreen sitting between my razor and toothbrush so I have no excuse to “forget” to put it on. 😀

  • Great tips! Love this one in particular “I ask all family members, friends and patients to put their sunscreen bottle under or right next to their toothbrush. Presuming everyone brushes his or her teeth in the morning, he or she will remember to apply sunscreen.”

    We keep our sunscreen next to our toothbrush holder!

    • Love this! The visual reminder ensures sunscreen is front of mind first thing in the AM.

  • I ve been in dermatology practice in Australiafor 30 plus years and skin cancer on the eyelids is UNCOMMON- certainly it is not 10% of all skin cancers as mentioned above

    • This is a surprising number but Dr. Woodward may have information based on her role at Duke. Stay tuned!