Skin Cancer Prevention

Because skin cancer prevention should begin early in childhood the initial responsibility lies with parents of babies and small children. Although most skin cancers are diagnosed after age fifty, the actual tumor is the result of ultraviolet exposure throughout life.

No matter what your age, the skin cancer prevention and sun safety tips found on this page will help reduce your risk of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Practice these sun safety tips on a daily basis to get the maximum benefit.

Sunscreen and SPF

With the increase in atmospheric radiation due to ozone depletion from air pollution, the daily use of sunscreeen is perhaps the most important sun safety tip. All types of sunscreen have an SPF number. SPF stands for sun protection factor. Dermatologists recommend that you use an SPF of at least thirty.

Sunscreen should be used daily, even when cloud cover appears to provide some protection. Try to get in the habit of applying sunscreen thirty minutes before you go outside. Don’t skimp when you’re applying the cream: rub a generous amount onto any part of your body that will be exposed: don’t forget your ears or the back of your neck. Men who have bald spots should protect their scalp, even if they are planning to wear a hat.

The cream should be replenished throughout the day. If you’re swimming or planning activities that will make you sweat, apply more sunscreen every hour.

Covering Up: Hats and Sunglasses

Protective clothing should be worn if you’re planning on being outside. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever possible, and make sure the fabric is tightly woven for maximum protection. Loose-fitting shirts and pants will help keep you from getting too hot.

A hat is an essential item. Look for one with a large brim that runs around the entire hat: this will protect the back of your neck as well as your face. Sunglasses are also essential: eye damage from ultraviolet exposure can cause cataracts. Choose a pair of sunglasses that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

Avoid the Heat

The hottest time of the day is between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. These are also the times when UV rays are at their most intense. Whenever possible, avoid sunlight during this six-hour period.

Tanning Beds: Not an Alternative

Tanning beds and lights may seem like a safe alternative to natural sun tanning. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The lights in tanning beds and salons use ultraviolet rays that are just as damaging to the skin as natural sunlight. Skin cancer prevention should include avoiding the use of tanning beds.

Antioxidants and Skin Protection

Antioxidants are substances that prevent oxygen radicals from damaging cells, and may help slow the aging process. UVA stimulates the action of oxygen radicals in the body, so antioxidant use may lower the risk of skin cancer. Beta-carotene, vitamin E and vitamin C are considered to be the most useful antioxidants for skin protection. Consult your doctor before beginning any vitamin supplements, especially if you have existing health problems or you take medication.


American Academy of Dermatology. (nd). Preventing actinic keratosis by protecting yourself against the sun. Retrieved May 14, 2003, from

ProtectAgainstSun.htm.National Cancer Institute. (2003). What you need to know about melanoma. Retrieved May 14, 2003, from c39-1ba0-4a7e-9088-e03c592c5395.

National Cancer Institute. (updated 2002). What you need to know about skin cancer. Retrieved May 14, 2003, from

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (updated 2001). Tanning and burning. Retrieved May 15, 2003, from