The best way to lower your risk of skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and UV light. That means avoiding excess sun exposure, especially in midday when the sun is strongest.
Wear sunscreen. The use of sunscreens is complex, and everyone should understand how and when to use them. Follow instructions closely and reapply as directed after swimming or sweating. The bottom line is not that people should avoid sunscreens or sunblocks, but that they should always use them in combination with other sun-protective measures.
Many parents are now taking effective steps to protect their children, although experts worry that they are relying too much on sunscreen and less on other protective measures.
General Guidelines for Avoiding the Sun and UV Radiation
The best way to prevent skin damage is to avoid excessive sun exposure. The following are some specific guidelines:
- Use sunscreens that block out both UVA and UVB radiation. Do not rely on sunscreen alone for sun protection. Also wear protective clothing and sunglasses.
- Avoid sun exposure, particularly during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when UV rays are the strongest.
- Use precautions, even on cloudy days. Clouds and haze do not protect you from the sun, and in some cases may intensify UVB rays.
- Avoid reflective surfaces such as water, sand, concrete, and white-painted areas.
- UV intensity depends on the angle of the sun, not heat or brightness. The dangers are greater the closer to the start of summer.
- Skin burns faster at higher altitudes. One study suggested that an average complexioned person burns in 6 minutes at 11,000 feet at noon compared to 25 minutes at sea level.
- Avoid sun lamps, tanning beds, and tanning salons. The machines use mostly high-output UVA rays.
Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat to shield your face from the sun's rays. Special clothing can block out UV rays. This clothing is rated using sun protection factor (SPF) or a system called the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) index, with 50 UPF being the highest. (According to one study, this is a very reliable indicator of protection.) The clothing is expensive, however.
Review Date: 07/04/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.