Protect yourself

Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the number one cause of skin cancer. That means knowing how to protect yourself from UV exposure is the best way to prevent skin cancer.

How the damage is done

UV radiation penetrates the skin and causes cell damage that can potentially develop into skin cancer over time. The sun is the major source of UV radiation exposure, though artificial sunlight from tanning bulbs and lamps also produces harmful UV radiation.

There are multiple ways to prevent overexposure to UV radiation and keep your skin healthy to lower the risk of developing skin cancer.

Limit sun exposure

Avoid overexposure to the sunlight, especially during the peak sunlight hours of 10 AM to 4 PM. Be sure to prevent sunburns and blistering.

Your skin is exposed to harmful UV rays from the sun throughout the day. Even on cloudy days, UV rays can penetrate your skin and cause damage. The intensity of the sun’s rays is greatest between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM, but skin damage can occur from sunup to sundown.

Kids and sun exposure

Take extra precautions to prevent sunburns on any children in your care. Apply sunscreen, dress in protective clothing, and avoid peak sunlight hours.

A few serious sunburns early in life can increase the risk of developing melanoma later in life. A child’s skin is more susceptible to harm from UV rays. On average, about 23 percent of sun exposure during a person’s lifetime occurs by the age of 18.
5 or more sunburns doubles your risk of melanoma.
Source: Skin Cancer Foundation

Wear protective clothing

Wear multiple articles of protective clothing if sun exposure is unavoidable.

Though it is not always comfortable to wear clothing that covers the entire body during the summer months, it is important to wear what can be tolerated and apply sunscreen to areas of the skin that are left unprotected.

Examples of protective clothing include:

  • Tightly woven, dark in color, and longer in length
  • Fabric rating of at least 50 UPF (ultraviolet protection factor)
  • Hats with a broad brim all the way around to shade the scalp, ears, and face
  • Sunglasses that block out both UVA and UVB rays to protect the eyes
  • Footwear that covers the tops of your feet and toes

Always apply sunscreen

Apply sunscreen before any amount of time spent exposed to the sun.

If sun exposure is unavoidable, applying the appropriate sunscreen can help protect the skin from harmful UV radiation.

Tips for purchasing and applying sunscreen:

  • Have an SPF (sun protection factor) rating of at least 15
  • Be rated to protect against ultraviolet A and B sun rays
  • Be waterproof or water-resistant
  • Be shaken vigorously to ensure protection agents are distributed evenly
  • Be applied generously at least 30 minutes prior to skin being exposed to the sun
  • Be reapplied every 1-2 hours, especially after swimming or heavy perspiration
  • Be replaced if the expiration date has passed or if it was purchased more than 2 years from the current date
At least 90% of skin cancer is caused by overexposure to the sun.
Source: Skin Cancer Foundation

Avoid tanning bulbs and lamps

Avoid tanning beds and tanning lamps completely to help reduce your chances of developing skin cancer.

Tanning beds and tanning lamps are used as alternatives to sunbathing to darken the skin. The tanning salon industry has suggested that the use of tanning bulbs is safer than tanning under direct sunlight. However, the bulbs used in these machines emit harmful UV rays that damage skin cells and increase the risk of developing skin cancer—just like the sun.

Studies have shown that people who have tanned indoors have about a 75 percent higher risk of developing melanoma. It is important to remember that artificial sun rays produced by these types of bulbs are dangerous and damaging to the skin.