OBJECTIVES: The incidence of skin cancers, melanoma in particular, is increasing rapidly. Consequently, specific recommendations for sun-protection measures now exist. This survey set out to assess the compliance of the general population with these guidelines. METHODS: The French nationwide observational survey, EDIFICE Melanoma, was conducted (28 September to 20 October 2011) through phone interviews of a representative sample of 1502 subjects aged >/= 18 years, using the quota method. Sun-protection was defined as frequent or systematic use of clothes or sunscreen. The group of individuals who declared exposure to the sun (N = 1172) was subdivided: risk-takers (N = 442), and those who used sun protection (N = 730). RESULTS: Risk-takers were significantly more often male (62% vs. 44%, P < 0.01), had a lower level of education (40% vs. 26%, P < 0.01), lower incomes (2587 euros vs. 2948 euros/month) and were more often smokers (42% vs. 31%, P < 0.01). In contrast, age, marital status and use of sunbeds were not significantly different between the two groups. Interestingly, risk-takers had less risk factors for melanoma. However, they were less well-informed about high-risk exposure and optimal use of sunscreen. Sun-protection measures for their children were less stringent than those of the group who used sun protection: systematic/frequent use of sunglasses (42% vs. 59%, P < 0.01), systematic use of sunscreen (77% vs. 86%, P < 0.01), and frequent renewal (69% vs. 82%, P < 0.01), high sun protection factors (SPF) (46% vs. 56%, P < 0.01), use of clothing (84% vs. 92%, P < 0.01) and hats (88% vs. 94%, P < 0.01). CONCLUSIONS: Risk-takers are characterized by a lesser understanding of sun-protection measures and behaviours. Their children benefit less from protective measures than those of people who use sun protection themselves. Improved understanding may well improve behaviours; one can therefore legitimately predict a considerable impact on parents' attitude to their own protection and that of their children.