Bioethics Blogs

Sunscreen, Gender norms, and Men’s Health

Samantha Brennan considers the effect of gender norms on men’s health and suggests that when it comes to health promotion, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.


I’m the mother of two sons – teen and twenty-something sons. As I pack away tube after tube of unused sunscreen, I find myself thinking about gender norms. I check expiry dates. They’ll still be good next year. Maybe by then they’ll use sunscreen.

Generally speaking, though, boys and men don’t use sunscreen. They also pay the price for this. Boys and men between the ages of 15 and 39 are more than twice as likely to die of melanoma, than girls and women between these ages. According to the American Academy of Dermatology melanoma will kill 6,470 boys and men this year — and half as many girls and women.

The explanation as to why so many men die from melanoma relies heavily on norms around gender. Most men hate putting lotion on their skin (too girly) and aren’t big on being afraid of things (not manly). They are also more likely to have outdoor jobs and do household tasks that involve being outside. Think about lawn-mowing and BBQ-ing. They also pay less attention to their skin and so don’t catch early warning signs.

Women, generally speaking, don’t mind putting on lotions and do pay attention to changes in their skin. They wear sunscreen to avoid premature aging and wrinkles and often also wear make-up year round that contains ingredients that protect their skin from the sun.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.