How can I prevent skin cancer?
The key is to avoid being in the sun or using sunlamps. If you're going to be in the sun for any length of time, follow the safe-sun guidelines.
Remember that clouds and water won't protect you—60% to 80% of the sun's rays go through clouds and can reach swimmers at least one foot below the surface of the water. The sun's rays can also reflect off water, snow and white sand.
What are the safe-sun guidelines?
Safe-sun guidelines are the following 4 ways to protect your skin and reduce your risk of skin cancer. Each is just part of a program to prevent skin cancer. To greatly lower your risk, you must follow all of the safe-sun guidelines.
1. Avoid the sun.
Sunlight damages your skin. The sun is strongest during the middle of the day, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. During these hours, the sun can do the most damage to your skin. Sunburns and suntans are signs that your skin has been damaged. The more damage the sun does to your skin, the more likely you are to get early wrinkles, skin cancer and other skin problems.
2. Use sunscreen.
Use a sunscreen or sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, even on cloudy days. Check the expiration date—some ingredients in sunscreen break down over time. Use plenty of sunscreen and rub it in well. You should put the sunscreen on 30 minutes before you go into the sun. Put the sunscreen everywhere the sun's rays might touch you, including your ears, the back of your neck and any bald areas on the top of the head. Be sure to apply enough sunscreen to cover all skin that may be exposed to the sun. Put on more sunscreen every hour or so if you're sweating or swimming. If you are using a sunscreen spray lotion, keep the spray bottle close to the part the body you are spraying. If you spray from too far away, you may not cover all skin that the sun’s rays will touch.
But don't think that you're completely safe from the sun just because you're wearing sunscreen. Sunscreen cannot give you 100% protection against the sun's harmful UV radiation.
3. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, protective clothing and sunglasses.
If you have to be out in the sun, cover up your skin. A wide-brimmed hat will help protect your face, neck and ears from the sun. A hat with a 6-inch brim all around is the best. Baseball caps don't protect the back of your neck or the tops of your ears. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun. Choose sunglasses that block both ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays; wear sunglasses that wrap and are rated to block at least 99% of UVA sunlight. Sun exposure increases your risk of getting cataracts.
Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants made of tightly woven fabric. If the clothes fit loosely, you will feel cooler. Special sun-protective clothes are available from several companies.
Remember that you are often exposed to the sun while driving, especially your hands and arms.
4. Don't try to get a tan.
Don't use tanning salons or sunlamps. Tanning booths and sunlamps damage your skin just like real sunlight does.
What else should I do?
Some doctors think it's a good idea to do a monthly skin check, especially if you are someone with risk factors for melanoma. Ask your doctor about this. If your doctor thinks it's a good idea for you, check your skin once a month for signs of skin cancer, such as irregular moles. The earlier skin cancer is found, the greater the chance that it can be cured. Try doing your skin check on the same date every month. Pick a day that you can remember, like the date of your birthday or the day you pay bills. Look for any changes in a mole or the appearance of a new mole. Any moles that appear after you turn 30 years of age should be watched carefully and shown to your doctor.
Sunburns in childhood are the most damaging. Children younger than 6 months of age should never be outside in direct sunshine. Children 6 months of age or older should wear sunscreen every day.
See a list of resources used in the development of this information.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff