The report by market research firm Harris Interactive shows that nearly 40 percent of Americans believe that sunscreen should only be worn on cloudy days, and that two in five said that burning was the main risk from going out in the sun.
Participants were also under informed about effects such as skin aging, health risks and strategies for protecting themselves from UV exposure.
Farah Ahmed, chair of the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) Sunscreen Committee, commented: “the American public is still not in a place where they are sun smart every time they step out their door.”
A burning problem
Thirty-eight percent of those asked said that sunscreen should mainly be worn on cloudy days.
However, the American Academy of Dermatology says that even on cloudy days, around 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate the skin and cause damage.
In addition, around the same percentage believed that the main danger from sun exposure was burning.
Skin cancers, 90 percent of which are caused by sun damage, are the most common form of melanoma in America according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
3.5 million skin cancers in 2 million people are diagnosed annually in the USA, and it is estimated that over 3,000 deaths will occur as a result of the condition in 2013.
Nearly half of those surveyed- forty-five percent- believed that genetics were the primary cause of skin ageing.
Dermatologists have highlighted the numerous harmful effects which can result from sun exposure, including wrinkles, lines, sagging skin, dull skin, age spots and dehydration.
In addition, a third of the participants believed the myth that people with darker skin were more resistant to skin damage, when in fact they are only more resistant to skin cancer.
A burning problem
The PCPC have advised Americans not to leave the house without wearing sunscreen regardless of the weather, stressing that reflections off snow and water can also cause skin damage.
Ahmed said: “Unfortunately, the American public still has a long way to go before we treat sunscreen the way we treat seatbelts.”
“Every time you step out of your door, you should automatically apply sunscreen – rain or shine, summer or winter – as well as wear protective clothing and seek shade whenever possible."