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Skin Cancer: Prevention

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is the biggest risk factor for skin cancer. UV rays come from the sun and from sunlamps and tanning beds. There are 2 types of UV rays that can reach and damage your skin: UVA and UVB.

Here’s what you can do to help reduce your risk of skin cancer:

  • Limit your exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when UV rays are strongest. Stay in the shade if you're outside during this time.

  • Apply a generous amount of sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes 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. Don't forget your feet, neck, ears, and the top of your head.

  • Use lip balm that has an SPF of at least 30.

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

  • Check the expiration date on your sunscreen to make sure it's still effective. Don't use sunscreen that has expired.

  • Wear clothing that covers your body and shades your face. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat. Hats should provide shade for the face, ears, and back of the neck. For even better protection, wear clothing with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor).

  • Wear sunglasses with a UV coating. The label should say 100% UVA/UVB protection). This will reduce the amount of UV rays that reach the eye. And it will protect your eyelids and the eye itself.

  • Don’t 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 to children age 6 months and older. And reapply it often.

Keep babies younger than 6 months out of direct sunlight. Dress your baby in hats and lightweight clothing that covers most of the skin. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) approves using a small amount of sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months if clothing and shade don’t provide enough cover. Apply a small amount only on your baby’s exposed areas, such as the face and back of the hands.

Take care around reflective surfaces

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

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals
Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Lehrer MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2022
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