Skin Cancer | Causes & Risk Factors


Why is the sun so bad for my skin?

The sun's rays, which are called ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays (UVA and UVB rays) damage your skin. This leads to early wrinkles, skin cancer and other skin problems.

Being in the sun too often for too long can lead to skin cancer, even if you don't burn. A tan is the body's attempt to protect itself from the sun's harmful rays.

Are tanning booths safer?

No. Tanning booths use ultraviolet rays. Makers of the booths may claim that they use "harmless" UVA rays. But both UVA and UVB rays cause skin damage. While UVA rays take longer than UVB rays to damage the skin, they go deeper into the skin than UVB rays.

What are the risk factors for skin cancer?

A number of factors may put you at higher risk of having skin cancer, including the following:

  • Having fair skin and red or blond hair
  • Having light-colored eyes
  • Sunburning easily
  • Having many moles, freckles or birthmarks
  • Working or playing outside
  • Being in the sun a lot as a child
  • Having had a serious sunburn
  • Having had skin cancer, or having family members who have had skin cancer
  • Tanning in the sun or with a sunlamp

Who gets melanoma?

Anyone can get melanoma, but some people are more likely to get it. If you answer "yes" to any of the questions below, you may be more at risk. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors.

  • Has anyone in your family had cancerous moles or a melanoma?
  • Do you have many moles larger than a pencil eraser?
  • Do you have more than 50 moles of any size?
  • Did you ever get a bad sunburn that caused blisters when you were a child?
  • Does your skin usually burn but not tan?


See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 05/14
Created: 01/96