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Skin Cancer: Prevention

Older woman wearing wide-brimmed hat and long sleeve shirt while watering in the yard

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is the most important preventable risk factor for skin cancer. UV rays come from the sun and from sunlamps and tanning beds. There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. Both cause damage to the skin.

Here’s how you can help reduce your risk of skin cancer:

  • Minimize your exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when UV rays are strongest.

  • Apply a generous amount of sunscreen before you go outside. Use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Broad-spectrum means the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply it to all areas of your body that will be exposed to the sun.

  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, even on cloudy days. Reapply after swimming or sweating.

  • Wear clothing that covers your body and shades your face. Wear long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat. Hats should provide shade for the face, ears, and back of the neck.

  • Wear sunglasses with a UV coating. This will reduce the amount of UV rays that reach the eye, and protect your eyelids and the eye itself.

  • Do not use sunlamps or tanning beds.

Protecting children from the sun

Skin damage from UV rays early in life can lead to skin cancer later in life. Keep children from too much sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when UV rays are strongest. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen often to children age 6 months and older.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) approves of the use of sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months old if not enough cover is available with clothing and shade. Dress your baby in lightweight clothing that covers most areas of skin. Apply a small amount of sunscreen to exposed areas such as the face and back of the hands.

Take care around sand and snow

Sand and water reflect UV rays, even under a beach umbrella. If you’re on the beach, cover up and use sunscreen. Snow is also good at reflecting UV rays. Cover up and wear sunscreen while outside in snowy areas. 


Sources: American Academy of Dermatology, The Skin Cancer Foundation

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/20/2015
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