Background Sunburn and sun bed use increase risk of malignant melanoma, the incidence of which continues to rise.
Objectives To document trends in reported sun bed use, sunburn, and sun care knowledge and attitudes in a U.K. region where there have been 20 years of sun-related health promotion campaigns.
Methods In 2000, 2004 and 2008, a ‘care in the sun’ module was included in the Northern Ireland (NI) Omnibus survey. Each year 2200 subjects aged 16 years and over were randomly selected and invited to complete a sun-related questionnaire. Proportions of respondents were analysed by demographic and socioeconomic factors, with differences tested using z-tests and the χ2-squared test.
Results In total, 3623 persons responded (response rate 50–59%). Skin cancer knowledge in 2008 was high at 97%. Skin type reporting was inaccurate and since 2000 has become weighted towards the darker Fitzpatrick skin types IV and V (χ2 = 21·5, P = 0·006). Reported sunburn rose over the 8-year period to 60% in 2008, with 39% of those aged 16–24 years reporting sunburn at least once in the previous year. Twenty per cent reported sun bed use in 2008, a fall from 28% in 2004 (P = 0·01), with greater reported use among those aged 16–24 years (24%) and among women (31% vs. 9% men, P < 0·001). Tanning was reported to make respondents feel healthier (42%) and more attractive (47%), with these attitudes more likely among young women.
Conclusions Skin cancer and sun care knowledge is good among the NI population but reported behaviours of sun bed use and sunburn pose risks for further rises in skin cancer. Barriers for future sun care campaigns to address include poorer sun care knowledge among men, poor skin type awareness, and women’s attitudes regarding the health and attractiveness of tanning. Sun bed use, although high, has fallen, possibly in response to recent campaigns.