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Preventing Skin Cancer

Relaxing in the sun may feel good. But it isn’t good for your skin. In fact, the sun’s harmful rays are the major cause of skin cancer. This is a serious disease that can be life-threatening. People of all ages, races, and backgrounds are at risk.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. But there are things you can do to help prevent it.

Your role in prevention

You can act today to help prevent skin cancer. Start by staying away from the sun’s UV (ultraviolet) rays. And don’t use tanning beds or lamps. They are no safer than the sun. Taking these steps can help keep you from getting skin cancer. It can also help prevent wrinkles and other aging effects caused by the sun.

Sun damage builds up over time. Make sure your children also follow these safeguards. Now is the time to start taking steps to prevent skin cancer.

When you're outdoors

Protect your skin when you go out during the day. Take safety steps whenever you go out to eat, run errands by car or on foot, or do any outdoor activity. There isn’t just one easy way to protect your skin. It’s best to follow all of these steps:

  • Choose protective clothing. Wear tightly woven clothing that covers your skin such as a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. Put on a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, ears, and scalp. Look for clothing with an ultraviolet protection value (UPV) which offers extra protection.

  • Protect your eyes, too. Wear wrap-around sunglasses to protect your eyes and the skin around them. Make sure your sunglasses have 995 to 100% UV absorption.

  • Watch the clock. Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. That's when the sun's rays are strongest.

  • Head for the shade or make your own. Use an umbrella when sitting or strolling.

  • Be careful near reflective surfaces. Know that the sun’s rays can reflect off sand, water, pavement, and snow. This can harm your skin. Take extra care when you are near reflective surfaces.

  • Watch out for cloudy skies. Keep in mind that even when the weather is hazy or cloudy, your skin can be exposed to strong UV rays. UV light can pass through clouds even when visible light doesn't.

  • Protect your lips. Use lip balm or lipstick with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher.

  • Shield your skin with sunscreen. Also use sunscreen on your children’s skin. Keep babies younger than 6 months old out of the sun.

Tips for using sunscreen

To help prevent skin cancer, choose the right sunscreen and use it correctly. Try these tips:

  • Choose a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. Also choose a sunscreen labeled "broad spectrum.” This will protect you from both UVA and UVB (ultraviolet A and B) rays.

  • If one brand irritates your skin, try another, such as one without fragrance.

  • Use at least 1 ounce of sunscreen to cover exposed areas. This is enough to fill a shot glass. You might need to adjust the amount depending on your body size. Be generous.

  • Put the sunscreen on dry skin about 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. This gives it time to soak in.

  • Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours. If you’re active, do it more often. If you're swimming or sweating, reapply every hour.

  • Cover any sun-exposed skin, from your face to your feet. Don’t forget your scalp, ears, neck, and lips.

  • Know that while sunscreen helps protect you, it isn’t enough. Sunscreens extend the length of time you can be outdoors before your skin starts to be damaged and get red. But they don't give you total protection. Using sunscreen doesn't mean you can stay out in the sun for an unlimited time. Your skin cells are still being damaged. You should also wear protective clothing. And try to stay out of the sun as much as you can, especially from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Shake sunscreen before using it. And keep an eye on expiration dates. Don't use sunscreens that have expired.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals
Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Lehrer MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2021
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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