Background: During the last decade, results of surveys of adults showed an increase in sun protection knowledge, a slight decline in the attitude that having a tan was healthy, widespread sunscreen use as the principal method of solar protection, and an increase in sunburning.
Methods: During the summer of 1996, observers recorded the sun protection activities of 352 family groups as they arrived at the beach and did concurrent interviews.
Results: Ninety-eight percent of families using sunscreen applied it after arrival at the beach and it was the dominant form of sun protection used. Usually, the adult woman provided the sunscreen and applied it to a child before applying it to herself. The median delay in application from arrival at the beach to application to the last family member was 51 minutes. Wearing either a hat, shirt, or sunscreen by 1 adult was associated with wearing the same item by at least 1 child in the family group (hat, P<.001; shirt, P<.001; sunscreen, P<.001). Children's sunscreen use was associated with having fair skin and a parent who used it.
Conclusions: Because those with fair skin type are more likely to use sunscreen and to burn after short periods of exposure, delay in sunscreen application may cause sunburns. While solar protection has become part of routine beach behaviors for most families, there is room for improvement with better application of sunscreen; more use of clothing, especially hats; and seeking shade.