Protecting your skin today may help prevent skin cancer later in life. Most skin cancer appears later in life, but skin damage from the sun can start during childhood.
Taking steps to protect your skin may also help prevent:
- Blotches or spots on your skin
- Other damage to your skin and eyes
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and other sources of ultraviolet (UV) rays, such as tanning beds.
What causes skin cancer?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. UV radiation can also come from tanning beds, tanning booths, or sunlamps.
Anyone can get skin cancer. You’re at higher risk if you have:
- Fair (light-colored) skin with freckles
- Blond or red hair
- Blue or green eyes
While these individuals are at an increased risk, it is important to note that anyone can develop skin cancer. Individuals with darker skin tones should still take preventative action to avoid sun damage, and you can learn more about this from this article by the National Institute of Health.
You’re at increased risk for melanoma, one of the most dangerous types of skin cancer, if you have:
- Unusual moles (moles that change color, grow unevenly, or change in texture)
- A large number of moles (more than 50)
- A family history of melanoma or unusual moles
- Fair skin that burns easily
- A personal history of many blistering sunburns, especially when you were a child or teenager
Find out more about unusual moles and melanoma risk. Be sure to talk with your doctor or nurse if you have any concerns.
How can I Practice Sun Safety?
The sun reaches its peak around noon, and the rays from the sun are most damaging between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This does not mean you should avoid being outside, but instead, you should practice safe sun practices when engaging in any outdoor activities. This includes going to the beach, taking walks, enjoying events outdoors, and just about any other activity that is outdoors during sunny hours.
Stay out of direct sun as much as possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The sun’s rays are the strongest from mid-morning to late afternoon. Try to stay out of the sun during these hours. If you’re outside, stay in the shade — like under a tree or umbrella. This does not mean do not go outside. Enjoy what outdoors has to offer you but be mindful about how much sun exposure you are receiving. You can limit your exposure by wearing sunscreen. Dermatologists recommend sunscreen (minimum SPF 30) application daily. If you are outdoors for more than a couple of hours, it is a good idea to have sunscreen on-hand to reapply frequently.
It is a good idea to purchase sunscreen that is higher SPF, such as SPF 50 or higher, if you will be outside for a longer period. In addition, seek shady spots outside such as under trees or other structures that block some of the sunlight from reaching you. If you are planning an outdoor event, consider hosting the event later in the day so that you, and your attendees, are out of significant exposure. If you are hosting or participating in an event, bring a canopy tent along so that you can enjoy the day underneath the shade it provides.
Use sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection, also called broad spectrum sunscreen. Check the expiration date on the bottle to make sure it’s not out of date.
Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
As previously mentioned, shady spots and sunscreen should become your best friend when participating in outdoor activities. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants/skirt when you spend time outdoors. Clothes made from tightly woven fabrics are best for blocking UV rays. There are various options for loose-fitting clothing when it is hot outdoors like it is now.
In addition, long pants are important to protect your legs. Many people do not realize that your legs are equally as important to protect as your face. In fact, legs are most commonly neglected when it comes to sunscreen.
Wear a wide brim hat
Wear a hat with a wide brim that protects your face and neck. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. If you wear a baseball cap or visor, be sure to protect your ears and the back of your neck with sunscreen.
Slip on some sunglasses
Sunglasses are important to protect your eyes and your eyelids, as sunscreen application to the eye area is somewhat difficult, especially if you are sweating during hot days. Do not forget to wear them. This will help protect your eyes and the skin around them from sun damage. Wrap-around sunglasses are best because they block UV rays from both the side and the front. Some sunglasses provide better protection than others, so be sure to get a pair that actually protect. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends sunglasses that are at least 99 percent UV absorbent, but you do not need to pay a pretty penny to find sunglasses that do the job.
Do not use indoor tanning machines
Indoor tanning machines are just as harmful as being outdoors during peak sunlight. To make matters worse many individuals that use tanning beds use harmful tan accelerants which burn your skin faster. Just like tanning in the sun, indoor tanning can cause skin cancer, wrinkles, age spots, and other damage to your skin and eyes. Remember this, a tan on your skin is not beneficial. A tan is your bodies response to sun damage. If you are looking to gain a tan, there are great self-tanner options that do not expose you to UV rays, such as various lotions, sprays, and more. Check out your options when it comes to self-tanning as there are a wide variety of skin-safe options.
Check your skin for changes regularly
Whether you are outdoors a lot or not, it is important to complete self-assessments on your skin frequently to monitor for any abnormalities that may arise. Self-assessments are important for preventing the development of skin cancer and can help you catch an abnormality in its early stages as opposed to later, when it may be more severe. If you are interested in learning more ways you can take action to prevent developing cancer, read our article on cancer prevention.