Tips to Help Reduce Your Risk for Skin Cancer

Protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation

Skin cancer, which is the most common forms of cancer, occurs as the result of the abnormal growth of skin cells. It can occur anywhere on the body but most frequently on skin that has been exposed to the sun. While most skin cancer can be treated, it is important to prevent this disease.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer with about 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers diagnosed in the United States each year. Melanoma is rarer, but much more dangerous, and accounted for more than 70,000 cases of skin cancer in 2015.

While it is common, most types of skin cancer are among the easiest cancers to prevent, identify and treat. Certain people are more likely to develop skin cancer than others, and there are genetic syndromes that put some people at higher risk for developing melanoma. People at higher risk for skin cancer are those who have:

  • Too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation (from sunlight or tanning beds and lamps)
  • Pale skin (easily sunburned, doesn’t tan much or at all, natural red or blond hair)
  • Exposure to large amounts of coal tar, paraffin, arsenic compounds, or certain types of oil
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • Multiple or unusual moles
  • A history of severe sunburns 
  • A weakened immune system

The best thing you can do to protect yourself from skin cancer is to protect your skin from damage related to exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun. But sunscreen alone is not enough: When you do go outside, follow these rules to avoid risking your health:

Use Sunscreen

Woman putting suntan lotion on
Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher as part of a complete sun protection program. If you intend to be outdoors for an extended period of time, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen (UVA/UVB).

Apply a generous amount of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before you go outside. Reapply every two hours. Apply immediately If you have been swimming or sweating excessively.

Stay in the Shade

Staying in the shade will keep you cooler and reduce your risk of skin cancer. During the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Daylight Saving Time (9 a.m. to 3 p.m. standard time) when the sun’s rays are at their brightest and can cause the most damage to your skin, you should still wear sunscreen.

Keep Children Safe

Most cases of skin cancer are linked to severe sunburns and sun exposure during childhood. Newborns should be kept out of the sun completely, and sunscreen should be used on babies and children over the age of six months.

Get a Skin Cancer Check-up

You should make it a point to examine your skin every month for any abnormalities. Signs to look for include:

  • Any new spots (even if it has no color) or changes to existing ones, especially in the size or color of a mole, growth, or spot
  • Scaliness, roughness, oozing, bleeding, or a change in the way an area of skin looks
  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • Pigmentation that spreads beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark
  • Changes in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain

You should also make sure that you see your doctor for a professional skin examination on an annual basis.

Cover Up With Protective Clothing

Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses to reduce your risk of skin cancer.