Man putting sunscreen
Sunscreen is often misconstrued as a women's accessory, when it actually is the best self-defence against the glare of the sun. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Skincare enthusiasts are all on the same page: Daily sun protection is a must, even for the most pared-down skincare routine. We're talking SPF 30 (Sun Protection Factor), broad spectrum, every single day. Sure, it helps fight wrinkles and dark spots, but here's the real kicker: It offers protection against skin cancer or melanoma.

What is SPF?
SPF, or sun protection factor, is a measure of how well sunscreen protects our skin from the sun's rays, specifically its UVB rays.

Melanoma is a quick growing cancer that can spread into blood vessels and lymph nodes and attack other organs, according to the US-based Skin Cancer Foundation. As Julia King, a British Dubai-based dermatologist and skincare specialist, explains, it's the fourth most common cause of death for young adults. Sun protection is your best defence. However, it seems as if more women follow the SPF routine, while many men leave it out, which might be rather dangerous for their health.

Why do men not use sunscreen?

King answers, “There could be several behavioural reasons behind why sunscreen is neglected in a men’s skincare regime. There are so many misconceptions surrounding sunscreen, for starters, that it’s more for women and that men have tougher skin."  Hamdan Abdullah a Dubai-based dermatologist adds to this point, elaborating saying that as many sunscreen ads target women specifically, sunscreen is assumed as a more feminine product rather than as an actual necessity. Many men aren’t actually even informed about the risks of sun damage and the importance of sun protection, he adds. 

Quite often, they believe that it is more of a ‘beach-day’ accessory. As the effects of UV radiation damage don’t immediately show, it can be difficult to connect time in the sun to any serious effects. And unlike women who also use sunscreen to prevent premature aging, many men often don’t share the same motivation, she says.

The surveys and studies do reflect this train of thought. According to a 2019 US-based study, only 51 per cent of men had used sun cream in the previous year. In the same study, 70 per cent revealed that they weren’t aware of the signs of skin cancer. A UK-based survey conducted by Cancer Research UK in 2011 showed that 50 per cent men, more than women, forget to protect their skin and 75 per cent more aren't worried about getting sunburnt. King says, “Men accumulate sunburns and tans, which raise their risk of skin cancers many, many times.” Even after having melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, one UK-based study found that men were consistently less likely to take precautions against sunburn. “A sign of a troubling sunburn in childhood or adolescence can increase the risk towards melanoma later,” adds King.

Moreover, the signs of cancerous lesions are located in areas that are hard to find and treat for men, she explains. As a result, men miss the moles that are usually the hallmarks of melanoma. “In men, most melanomas occur in areas that they cannot monitor, like the shoulders or the back. So if the partner does not point it out, delays in treatment can occur,” she says.

While skin cancer impacts all genders, ages, and races, data indicates that men make up a particularly at-risk population due to both genetic and lifestyle factors, explain the experts. This increased risk might be due, in part, to structural differences in men's skin, making it more susceptible to sun damage.

Why men are more susceptible to melanoma

Man putting sunscreen
Compared to women, men generally have less facial fat. This fat layer plays a role in absorbing UV radiation, offering some initial protection. Image Credit: Shutterstock

We all know the feeling of that post-sunburn tightness – like someone cranked the volume on your skin. However, for men, sun damage might be an even bigger threat. While men's skin tends to be thicker than women's, this doesn't necessarily translate to better protection against sun damage. Radha Nilesh Patil, a Dubai-based specialist dermatologist at Medcare Sharjah, explains, "Men have thicker skin with less fat beneath the skin as well." This fat layer plays a role in absorbing UV radiation, offering some initial protection. With less fat, men's skin might be more exposed to the direct effects of UV rays.

Men's skin differs from women’s, as they have thicker skin with less fat, which plays a role in absorbing initial protection. A man’s skin also contains more collagen and elastin, which are fibers that give the skin firmness and keep it tight...

- Radha Nilesh Patil, a Dubai-based specialist dermatologist at Medcare Hospital Sharjah

King elaborates, "This structure might also contain fewer melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin, the pigment responsible for partial UV absorption and natural tanning.” 

Are hormones at play?

There might even be hormonal factors at play. Studies suggest that estrogen, a hormone more prevalent in women, might aid in skin repair after sun exposure. Dubai-based dermatologist, David Shawn says, “Estrogen stimulates the production of growth factors important for healing and potentially reducing inflammation, a risk factor for some cancers. The research is still underway, but it provides some clues about why men might be more susceptible to sun damage.”

What are growth factors?
What growth factors play a role in cellular processes
Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β): This growth factor is involved in wound healing, collagen production, and cell differentiation (specialisation).
Epidermal growth factor (EGF): EGF promotes the proliferation of keratinocytes, the main cell type in the outermost layer of the skin.
Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1): IGF-1 plays a role in cell growth, differentiation, and survival. It also stimulates collagen synthesis.

Studies such as a 2011 US-based research titled The role of estrogen deficiency in skin ageing and wound healing, published in the National Library of Medicine, explores the impact of declining estrogen levels on wound healing and suggests estrogen plays a role in these processes. Other studies explores the negative effects of declining estrogen levels, such as in postmenopausal women, on wound healing. This suggests a potential protective role for estrogen, but it doesn't directly address sex differences, in terms of the melanoma risk.

As Shawn summarises, “The evidence for estrogens direct role in protection against melanoma is still emerging. It just shows that the link between hormones and skin repair is a promising area of investigation. It actually sheds insight into why men might be more vulnerable to sun damage and the importance of sun protection for everyone.”

Make sunscreen a habit

Man putting sunscreen
If you sweat a lot or spend time in water, choose a water-resistant sunscreen with an ‘80 minutes’ or ‘40 minutes’ label, depending on your activity level Image Credit: Shutterstock

Everyone needs sunscreen, so here’s what both men and women need to keep in mind, before they buy a sunscreen, advise the specialists. They provide some tips:

The Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

Minimum SPF 30: This provides broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays cause sunburn, while UVA rays penetrate deeper and contribute to wrinkles and skin cancer.


Consider oil-free or lightweight lotions: These can feel less greasy or sticky on the skin, making them more comfortable for daily wear.

Mineral versus chemical: Both offer protection, but some men might prefer mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, as they tend to sit on top of the skin and may feel less irritating.

What are mineral and chemical sunscreens?
Physical or mineral sunscreens, feature ingredients such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These act as reflectors that act as physical blockers. The minerals form a protective barrier on the skin and reflect UV rays, before they can make contact with the surface of the skin. They offer immediate protection.
Chemical sunscreen: Chemical sunscreens, must be applied 30 minutes before going outdoors to let the ingredients fully bind to the skin. This kind of sunblock does not sit on the skin or block rays: They feature ingredients that absorb UV rays before your skin can absorb them.

Water resistance:

Active lifestyle: If you sweat a lot or spend time in water, choose a water-resistant sunscreen with an ‘80 minutes’ or ‘40 minutes’ label, depending on your activity level. Reapplication is crucial after swimming or excessive sweating.

Apply generously: Most people don't apply enough sunscreen. Aim for the entire body, and don't forget areas like the ears, neck, and feet.

Reapply every two hours: This is especially important if you're sweating or swimming.

Seek shade: Sun protection isn't just about sunscreen. Limit direct sun exposure, especially during peak hours (10 am to 4 pm).

Protective clothing: Hats, sunglasses, and long sleeves can provide additional protection.