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Preventing Skin Cancer

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

Senior woman watering lawn with a hose.

Your role in prevention

You can act today to help prevent skin cancer. Start by avoiding the sun’s UV (ultraviolet) rays. And don’t use tanning beds, which 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 sun-induced aging effects. Make sure your children also follow these safeguards. Now is the time to start taking preventive steps against skin cancer.

When you are outdoors

Protect your skin when you go outdoors during the day. Take precautions 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:

  • Wear tightly woven clothing that covers your skin. Put on a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, ears, and scalp.

  • Watch the clock. Try to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when it is strongest.

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

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

  • Keep in mind that even when the weather is hazy or cloudy, your skin can be exposed to strong UV rays.

  • Shield your skin with sunscreen. Also, apply sunscreen to your children’s skin.

Tips for using sunscreen

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

  • Choose a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Also, choose a sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum.” This will shield you from both UVA and UVB (ultraviolet A and B) rays.

  • If one brand irritates your skin, try another, particularly ones without fragrance.

  • Use a water-resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating.

  • Use at least an ounce of sunscreen (enough to fill a shotglass) to cover exposed areas. You might need to adjust the amount depending on your body size.

  • Apply the sunscreen to dry skin about 15  minutes before going outdoors to give it time to be absorbed.

  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours. If you’re active, do this more often.

  • Cover any sun-exposed skin, from your face to your feet. Don’t forget your ears and your 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 begins to redden, but they don't give you total protection. Using sunscreen doesn't mean you can stay out in the sun indefinitely, since damage to the skin cells is still occurring. 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.

Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 1/20/2015
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