Background: Given the public health burden of skin cancer in white populations, an increase in sun protective behavior is needed. In a high-risk community, we assessed long-term sunscreen use among people who had participated in a randomized trial of daily sunscreen application for prevention of skin cancer.
Methods: In 1992, 1621 residents of the subtropical Australian township of Nambour were randomly allocated to either daily or discretionary sunscreen use until 1996. From 1997 to 2002, we monitored by questionnaires their ongoing sunscreen use.
Results: People who had never or irregularly used sunscreen when in summer sun before the trial were more likely (P < 0.0001) to be sustaining regular application especially to their face (20% vs. 11%) and forearms (14% vs. 5%) if they had been allocated to daily, not discretionary, use of sunscreen for 5 years.
Conclusions: Regular voluntary sunscreen use for skin cancer prevention can be sustained by sun-sensitive people in the long term. Habit formation appears to be an important goal for sun protection programs among those living, or on vacation, in sunny places.