Note: This piece was researched and written by one of CivicScience’s summer interns, Matt O’Connor, who used data from our InsightStore™ to reveal these findings. Thank you, Matt!

Summer is in full swing and with it the inevitable trips to the beach, baseball games, golf outings, and graduation parties which are characteristic of the three warmest months in America. But what do all of these summer activities often have in common? – Sunscreen. According to TIME, sunscreen is a $1.3 billion dollar industry. There are many different types of sunscreen – from the popular “spray kind” to the traditional “rub-in kind” – and countless different brands. Not surprisingly, consumers demand the most sunscreen during the summer months, when the sun’s rays are the most powerful.

Sunscreen has been in the news a lot recently due to articles published about the public’s misunderstanding of SPF labels and due to concerns about the safety of certain brands’ ingredients. As it turns out, although the majority of Americans believe SPF 50 sunscreen is more protective, most dermatologists actually recommend SPF 30 sunscreen as long as it is properly reapplied.

As summer rolls forward and more sunscreen is purchased (especially as we head into the July 4th weekend), CivicScience has been conducting a study using our polling network to investigate the trends and habits of the American sunscreen user. The study, which has run from May 29 to the end of June 2015, polled more than 10,000 U.S. respondents, 13 years and older.


A quick look at the top-line results: A surprising nearly one-third of respondents doesn’t use sunscreen at all, despite decades of health risk warnings. Another 13% don’t pay attention to the sun protection level number and use whatever’s available or given to them. Among those who do use sunscreen (eliminating the 31% who don’t), 65% use at least an SPF 15 product.

We’ll group all of these respondents into three groups and do some comparative analysis on them:

  • Attentive Sunscreeners: These are folks who are aware of the SPF level they use, regardless of its value. So this group includes those who answered SPF 1-40+.
  • Inattentive Sunscreeners: This group is made up of those who answer “I’m not sure – I use whatever is handed to me.” They are using something, they just don’t know what protection level.
  • Non-sunscreeners: Pretty obvious – they just don’t use it.

Gender Differences in Sunscreen Use

Let’s dig deeper into what else our InsightStore™ knows about these consumers based on other poll questions they’ve answered with us. We’ll start with some gender differences. When the answer options are split into our three groups, there is a clear gender breakdown.

  • Attentive sunscreeners are 33% more likely to be female than male
  • Inattentive sunscreeners are 44% more likely to be male than female
  • Non-sunscreeners are 33% more likely to be male than female

According to the results, women are not only more careful when it comes to wearing sunscreen but also more prepared. Men tend to be less concerned with the level SPF sunscreen they wear, and they tend to go without sunscreen more often than women. Perhaps these gender differences aren’t surprising, but it does exemplify how much more education (and perhaps more convenient product availability) among men is still needed in this area.


Now let’s look at some age differences.

  • People who are under 24 are 125% more likely than average to be inattentive sunscreeners
  • People who are 25-44 are 19% more likely than average to be attentive sunscreeners
  • People who are 45-54 exhibit preferences that are on par with the average
  • People who are 55 or older are 25% more likely than average to be non-sunscreeners

According to this data, young people are not particular about the kind of sunscreen they use, but they definitely wear sunscreen. Young to middle-aged adults are more particular about the level of SPF they buy, and adults in their late 40s and early 50s show no clear preferences toward any of the categories. Surprisingly, the older generations are more likely to not use sunscreen at all.

Education Level

When we compared with our preloaded education question which asks, “Which of the following is the highest level of education you have attained?” we found some interesting results.

  • People with a college education or more are 16% more likely than average to be attentive sunscreeners
  • People with less than a college education are 20% more likely than average to be non-sunscreeners

As it turns out, people with higher levels of education tend to wear sunscreen more often than people with lower levels of education. This makes sense, as higher-educated people most likely know and understand the dangers of going without sunscreen and/or have better access to health care providers who warn them of the risks.

Residential Area

One other interesting factor to examine when looking at sunscreen is the type of area where users live. This time we compared the original sunscreen question with a preloaded question which asks “What type of area do you live in?” Although this trend is not as strong as previous comparisons, people who live in suburban areas are slightly more likely than average to be attentive sunscreeners, and people who live in rural areas are slightly more likely to be non-sunscreeners.

Other Insights

Finally, we also discovered a few seemingly random insights:

  • Attentive sunscreeners are 14% more likely than average to own a smart phone
  • Attentive sunscreeners are 23% more likely than average to say they love Meryl Streep
  • Non-sunscreeners are 48% more likely to have never heard of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

All jokes aside, we can now make some concrete conclusions about sunscreen users. The typical attentive sunscreen user is female, aged 25-44, well-educated, and is slightly more likely than not to live in a suburban area. The typical inattentive sunscreen user is male and under 24 years old. Finally, the typical non-sunscreen user is also male, aged 55 or older, has less than a college education, and lives in a rural area more often than not.

The business of sunscreen in America is undoubtedly growing larger and larger. As awareness of skin cancer increases, and as the population grows, so does the demand for sunscreen. Knowing who is buying sunscreen and why is certainly very valuable information for interested parties going forward.