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4 Ways to Protect Your Skin After Skin Cancer

You’ve had it once already. Here's how to lower your risk of getting it again.

Medically reviewed in September 2021

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Here's a sobering fact: If you've had melanoma once, your odds of getting it again are nine times higher than they are for everyone else. Even if you haven't had melanoma, but instead had another kind of skin cancer, you have an increased risk of developing skin cancer again.

That's why it's so important to protect yourself. With a little preparation, some vigilance, and a big mirror, you can help prevent future bouts with this potentially deadly disease.

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Use plenty of sunscreen

If you think a bout with melanoma is enough to scare most people into a lifelong sunscreen habit, think again. Just 53.7 percent of people with a history of skin cancer used sunscreen frequently, according to one 2016 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. But a good sunscreen is one of your best bets against developing skin cancer a second time.

Choose a brand with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection and an SPF of at least 30; the higher the number, the better. Apply it before you leave the house, and then every one to two hours throughout the day, more often if you're sweating profusely or swimming. Don't forget your ears, nose, under your eyes, your hairline, the back of your neck, the tops of your feet, and your scalp if your hair is thin.

Remember not to save sunscreen exclusively for beach days; you're just as likely to be sunburned in your garden as you are on the shore. Apply it every day, in all types of weather.

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Think beyond the lotion

While sunscreen is an important line of protection against harmful rays, it's not your only defense. You can also stay indoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when sunlight is most intense, and stick to shady areas when you are outside. You can wear UV-protective sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and light, long-sleeve clothing made of tightly woven fabric—cotton instead of linen, for example.

Of course, skip tanning salons, which are thought to cause more than 400,000 skin cancers in the United States annually. If you feel you need that sun-kissed glow, opt for a self-tanner with built-in sunscreen instead.

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Perform self-checks

Do you know where your moles are? When you have a history of skin cancer, it's a good idea to get acquainted. Performing a monthly self-exam is a smart way to do this. You'll learn your potential problem areas and how to identify changes over time, while understanding the  “ABCDE” warning signs for abnormal moles.

For those hard-to-see spots on your back, neck, and top of your head—where skin cancer can be easily missed—let your partner pitch in. Use your smartphone to record notes and take pictures of moles, too. It'll make it easier to detect changes from month to month. And if something seems off? Visit your healthcare provider (HCP), stat.

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Embrace follow-up care

Once you've been treated for skin cancer, you'll want to see an HCP regularly to help catch it if it returns. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends you visit a board-certified dermatologist every year for a full-body exam. Depending on your history, you may require more frequent checkups or additional tests. Remember, the earlier you find a growth, the better your odds of recovery.

Your HCP may also recommend a change in lifestyle. While it's not proven to prevent skin cancer from returning, maintaining a healthy routine—eating right, exercising, avoiding stress, and ditching tobacco—is a good way to help stave off any chronic illness and ensure that any treatment you may require is as effective as possible.

Sources:

American Academy of Dermatology Association. “Skin Cancer Stats.” 2021. Accessed May 21, 2021.
Cancer Research UK. “Skin care after skin cancer.” October 22, 2019. Accessed May 21, 2021.
American Cancer Society. “Living as a Basal or Squamous Cell Skin Cancer Survivor.” July 26, 2019. Accessed May 21, 2021.
AH Fischer, TS Wang, et al. “Sunburn and sun-protective behaviors among adults with and without previous nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC): A population-based study.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. August 1, 2016. Volume 75, Issue 2, pp 371-379.e5.
American Cancer Society. “How Do I Protect Myself from Ultraviolet (UV) Rays?.” July 23, 2019. Accessed May 21, 2021.
Skin Cancer Foundation. “Skin Cancer Prevention” 2021. Accessed May 21, 2021.
Cancer.net. “Skin Cancer (Non-Melanoma): Follow-Up Care.” July 2019. Accessed May 21, 2021.
E Benati, C Longo, et al. “Baldness and scalp melanoma.” Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. December 2017. 31(12):e528-e530.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. “Indoor tanning use.” 2021. Accessed September 15, 2021.

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