How can I prevent skin cancer?

Here are a few helpful tips for protecting yourself from the sun's harmful rays:

  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher (and thats label states it provides UVA/UVB protection), 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure, with careful attention to sun-exposed areas such as the face, hands and arms.
  • Apply lip balm that contains a sunscreen to protect sun-sensitive lips.
  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when its rays are strongest.
  • Wear a large (three-inch), brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect your scalp and eyes.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, but you should apply it more frequently if you have been swimming or sweating. Use about 1 ounce of cream—about one shot glass—to cover your entire body with each application.
  • Stay in the shade whenever you can.
  • Limit the time you spend in the sun.
  • Be aware that the sun's ultraviolet rays can reflect off water, sand, concrete and snow, and can reach below the water's surface as well as burn on an overcast day.
  • If you are taking an antibiotic or other medication, ask your healthcare professional if it may increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun and what you should do about it.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types of skin cancer—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—are highly curable. But melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous. About 65% to 90% of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps.

A few serious sunburns can increase your risk of skin cancer. To protect your skin from the sun, seek shade or go indoors during midday hours; wear long sleeves and long pants, a hat with a wide brim, and sunglasses; use sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher; and avoid indoor tanning.

One of the best ways to prevent skin cancer is by wearing sunscreen. Look for products with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, and reapply a shot glass amount of sunscreen at least every two hours during prolonged sun exposure. Wear sunscreen every day—ultraviolet (UV) radiation is still a danger on cloudy or rainy days.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to stay out of the sun, or protect yourself with shade, clothing and sunscreen from the sun’s harmful rays. Also, keep your eyes safe. Look for sunglasses that block 100 percent of UV rays and wear them even if your contact lenses have UV protection. To further protect your eyes in addition to scalp, ears, and neck, wear hats with a wide brim.

Dr. Jeanine B. Downie, MD
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

Here are some tips for protecting your skin from the sun and reducing your risk of skin cancer:

  • Slather up. Rain or shine, apply sunscreen every day. My darker-skinned patients think they’re automatically protected, but they’re not. They need to apply an SPF of at least 30 in the morning and then again throughout the day.
  • Don’t rely on tinted moisturizers. Remember that foundations and tinted moisturizers with SPF are makeup, meaning that you apply it more heavily to some areas and lighter to others. For full sun protection, use a mattifying, oil-free sunscreen underneath any face makeup.
  • See your dermatologist annually. Just don’t be burned when you come! To best analyze your skin, doctors need to see your skin as close as possible to its natural tone. This will allow her to get a better look at any abnormalities.
  • Spray your feet, in addition your ears, nose, back, shoulders, and knees. People get accidentally burned in these places most often because this is where the sun is hitting them when they go outside for lunch. Keep a spray sunblock at your desk and apply it to these spots 30 minutes before escaping your cubicle for lunch.
  • Keep sunblock in the car. The biggest hurdle to applying sunblock regularly is overcoming behavioral barriers. Keep face and body block in your car so it's handy whenever you feel the need for application. Over time you’ll just get accustomed to reapplying frequently.
  • Don’t rationalize tanning with a need for vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiencies have been a hot topic in the dermatology world. Some people think that if they’re deficient, they have license to sit in the sun, but one person dies from melanoma every 62 minutes. You should be able to get the daily vitamin D intake you need from oral supplements and eating well.

Easy, everyday sun care tips and making just a few changes to your daily routine can make a big difference down the road for your looks and health. But no one is immune to skin cancer, so no matter how careful you are, if you notice a mole or mark that looks suspicious, see your doctor immediately.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Keep an eye out for precancerous growths by self exam with the help of a partner (have your spouse or close friend look at all those areas you can't see and photograph your total skin surface), and have anything new or different evaluated by a dermatologist. You can even use your cell phone camera to record pictures that your dermatologist can use to compare yearly changes. Put a dime next to any growths that you photograph to provide an estimate of size. By the way, in case you think you're safe just because you stay out of the sun, realize that skin-damaging ozone levels increase in the afternoon, which can affect skin whether it's sunny or not. That underscores the point that you need to try to keep your skin healthy even if you have the best sun-protecting habits.

YOU: Being Beautiful: The Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty

More About this Book

YOU: Being Beautiful: The Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty

Most people think that beauty revolves around such things as lipstick, sweet eyes, or skinny jeans -- all those things that we can see (and obsess over) in the mirror. But the fact is that beauty isn't some superficial pursuit, and it's not some random act that you can thank (or curse) your ancestors for.There are, in fact, scientific standards to beauty. Beauty is purposeful, because it's how humans have historically communicated who we are to potential mates. Beauty, in fact, is really about your health and happiness.In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Michael F. Roizen and Dr. Mehmet C. Oz bust the myths and stereotypes about the way we view ourselves -- and how we define beauty. In these pages, you'll find out why beauty isn't as much about your vanity as it is about your humanity. The doctors take a scientific, informative, and entertaining look at the three levels of beauty and explain how they all work together to form a complete and authentic YOU. Those three levels of beauty are:Looking Beautiful: Your appearance influences your self-esteem and has major health implications. Here, the docs will tell you how you can look the way you want.Feeling Beautiful: So what if you have luscious lips or gorgeous locks if your joints creak and you have the energy of a rug? The docs will tell you how to improve your energy levels, beat back your life-altering aches and pains, and come to grips with some of life's toughest stresses.Being Beautiful: By improving your relationships with your loved ones as well as with others, you'll be well on your way to finding true happiness. That's the ultimate goal: Having all three levels of beauty working together so you can have a happy and healthy life.You'll start off by taking the ultra-revealing and validated YOU-Q Test to help you assess where you are on your own beauty scale and where you want to be. Take the test, see how well you do; then use the book to help you improve your score.With their usual candor and honesty, Dr. Roizen and Dr. Oz break down the mechanics of beauty and explain how little adjustments in your routine can help you become a happier, healthier person. You will learn about the biology of beauty, take YOU Tests to determine where you are on the beauty scale, get tons of YOU Tips to help you improve your life, as well as learn the secrets of the Ultimate Beautiful Day.From hair to toenails, Dr. Roizen and Dr. Oz go through every part of your body to explain how different foods, vitamins, creams, gels, and injections can really boost your looks. They scrutinize the beauty myths that bombard us every day and offer an unbiased perspective on which ones cause more harm than good. You will be able to revamp your beauty regimen (or start a new one from scratch). They'll also take a close look at chronic pain, mood swings, low energy, and financial stresses. And they'll dive into the science of building relationships, finding happiness, and using spirituality to help you define your own levels of true beauty.Dr. Roizen and Dr. Oz act as tour guides navigating the tricky but exciting terrain of today's beauty industry. YOU: Being Beautiful is your all-inclusive ticket into the world -- the real world -- of beauty.

The best way to prevent skin cancer seems to be to limit your exposure to intense sunlight, to wear protective clothing such as hats and shirts, and, perhaps, to apply sunscreen and avoid tanning facilities. Although the effectiveness of these practices has not been evaluated in clinical trials, both malignant melanomas and nonmelanomatous skin cancers have been linked to exposure to the sun.

Dr. Ronald M. Shelton, MD
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

"Oh Dr. Shelton, if we only knew when I was a kid what we know now I would be better off. I remember being told by my mother to go outside to get some color." I hear this from so many patients. Meanwhile these patients were subjecting themselves to dangerous ultraviolet rays. These are patients of mine that come to me a few times per year for Mohs surgery to remove skin cancer on their face. In the era that they were children, the society didn't really know about the damage of the sun. Now that we do, people are using better sunscreen and practicing "safe sun." This is important as the current sun exposure allows ultraviolet damage to ruin the DNA of our skin cells allowing the bad cell lines to form and propagate. Current sun exposure diminishes our immune response to the former effects of ultraviolet DNA breaks. Therefore, it is important to use sunscreen now and in our futures. The sad fact is that the older population laments that they didn't know better, but how can society explain that there are those in Australia, the skin cancer-capital of the world, that still sun bathe at the beach?

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun. Also, protect children from an early age. Doctors suggest that people of all ages limit their time in the sun and avoid other sources of UV radiation:

  • It is best to stay out of the midday sun (from mid-morning to late afternoon) whenever you can.
  • You also should protect yourself from UV radiation reflected by sand, water, snow, and ice.
  • UV radiation can go through light clothing, windshields, windows, and clouds.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants of tightly woven fabrics, a hat with a wide brim, and sunglasses that absorb UV.
  • Use sunscreen lotions. Sunscreen may help prevent skin cancer, especially broad-spectrum sunscreen (to filter UVB and UVA rays) with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. But you still need to avoid the sun and wear clothing to protect your skin.
  • Stay away from sunlamps and tanning booths.

The answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

The best defense against skin cancer is protection from the sun and ultraviolet light:

  1. Avoid excessive sun exposure; minimize or avoid time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  2. Wear protective clothing (hat that shades the face, neck and ears; long-sleeved shirt and long pants).
  3. Use sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher every day. Apply 1 ounce of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours.
Dr. Kathleen Wolin, ScD
Preventive Medicine Specialist

Protect your skin from the sun by seeking shade, avoiding peak sun hours (10 AM to 4 PM), using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and using sun protection clothing (e.g., long sleeves, hats). Kids need extra protection from the sun because their skin is more likely to burn. Be an example for them to follow.

For a list of things that affect melanoma risk visit Your Disease Risk:

Dr. Elizabeth K. Hale, MD
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

Skin cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer, because we know the major culprit. It is estimated that up to 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, or sunlight. For this reason, it is recommended that people wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every single day—365 days a year. Daily sun protection is a primary means of lowering your chance of developing skin cancer, as well as minimizing premature skin aging. Nevertheless, even though UV radiation is carcinogenic when you don’t take the proper precautions, being outside in the sun can have positive benefits on the mind and body. 

This content orignally appeared on

Dr. Ellen E. Marmur, MD
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

Watch as dermatologist Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD, shares her most important prevention tip for avoiding skin cancer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.