Survey Reveals Outdoor Workers Have Double The Rate Of Severe Sunburns

One in 10 outdoor workers had sunburns severe enough to cause blisters in 2023.

Sunburns increase skin cancer risk. Photo: AdobeStock/Тихон Купревич

A recent American Academy of Dermatology survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults revealed that half of outdoor workers – like landscapers – had sunburns in 2023, compared to 36% reported by the general American population. One in 10 outdoor workers had sunburns severe enough to cause blisters, a rate double that of the general population. And nearly 80% of outdoor workers got a tan or darker skin as a result of sun exposure, compared to 67% of Americans overall.

As a result, it’s clear that outdoor workers are putting themselves at increased risk for skin cancer, compared to the average American. In recognition of Skin Cancer Awareness Month this May, the AAD encourages everyone – and especially those who work outdoors – to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays. Skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the U.S., is also one of the most preventable.

“Since most outdoor workers are exposed to the sun during peak hours of the day, it’s vital they adopt sun protection measures as part of their daily routine to safeguard against skin cancer,” said board-certified dermatologist Bruce Brod, MD, MHCI FAAD, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

While those who work outside are more likely to protect themselves by wearing hats, they’re not significantly more likely to use sunscreen, according to the survey. 59%  reported wearing a hat, compared to 47% of all Americans.

Outdoor workers are also more likely to believe tanning myths, according to the survey. 31% believe a base tan will prevent sunburns, whereas only 23% of all Americans believe this misinformation. 31% of outdoor workers believe that tanning is safe if you don’t burn, compared to 20% of Americans overall.

A Melanoma Diagnosis

Steve Murray, 68, of the greater Washington, D.C. area, has worked in construction for several decades. During his childhood, Murray spent summers at the beach in Ocean City, N.J., and winter visits to Florida, where he was exposed to the sun. He didn’t think about sun protection until the late 1990s when he was first diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, and squamous cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer that tends to develop in people who have had a lot of sun exposure.

“Back when I was a kid, nobody worried about putting on sunscreen or wearing a hat,” he said. “You just cooked in the sun. At an early age, the damage is done, and you pay the price later in life. I didn’t realize the damage I was doing until the late 90s when my dermatologist started seeing things on my skin.”

Murray was first diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in 2008. Since then, he’s had several more bouts of skin cancer, having undergone two surgeries in 2024 for squamous cell carcinoma on his hand and back.

“I’m in the construction business, and even though I mostly work in the office, I still have to visit the sites and be in the sun,” he said. “When you work in the office environment, you don’t think about having to go out for an hour, and the fact that in that one hour you cook, and you don’t realize it until you get home that night. That’s when you say to yourself, ‘I should have put sunscreen on or I should have worn a hat,’ but by that point it’s too late.”

Now, Murray visits the dermatologist every three to six months. He always wears a hat and sunscreen, and long sleeves whenever possible, when he’s outside to protect himself from the sun.


To protect yourself from the sun and reduce your risk of sunburns and skin cancer, the AAD and Dr. Brod recommend that people:

  • Seek shade. Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You can also look at your shadow. Any time your shadow is shorter than you, seek shade.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing. Wear a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible. For more effective protection, select clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on the label.
  • Apply sunscreen. Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

Although everyone should have routine skin cancer checks, Dr. Brod said that people with certain risk factors should be particularly mindful and schedule an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist. “If you have a lot of moles or growths on your skin that you’re not sure about, a family history of skin cancer, you’ve spent a lot of time in the sun, or you’ve had even one severe sunburn, you owe it to yourself to get your skin checked by a board-certified dermatologist,” said Dr. Brod.

To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit

For more on sun and heat safety, see:

Landscape Workwear To Help Keep Your Cool

Worker Heat Safety: Creating An Outdoor Cooling Station

Keep Your Cool While Working Outdoors

National Hydration Day: The Most Effective Outdoor Work Drink Options


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