The best way to lower your risk of skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and ultraviolet (UV) light.
Using sunscreen and avoiding the sun help reduce the chance of many aging skin changes, including some skin cancers.
However, it is important not to rely too much on sunscreen alone. You should also not use sunscreen as a reason to increase the amount of time you spend in the sun. Sunscreens do appear to protect against melanoma, though the evidence they protect against other types of skin cancer is not as strong.
Even with the use of sunscreens, people should not stay out too long during peak sunlight hours. Even if you do not sunburn, UVA [ultraviolet A (long-wave)] rays can still penetrate your skin and do harm.
The best way to prevent skin damage is to avoid excessive sun exposure:
Avoid sun lamps, tanning beds, and tanning salons. The machines use mostly high-output UVA rays.
Wear protective clothing and a hat to shield your face from the sun's rays.
You can also buy sun protection factor (SPF) clothing and swimwear that block out UV rays. This clothing is rated using SPF (as used with sunscreen) or a system called the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) index. The clothing is expensive, however.
Everyone over age 1 should wear sunglasses that block all UVA and UVB rays when in the sun.
Use sunscreens that block out both UVA and UVB radiation. Look for products that contain either zinc oxide or titanium oxide.
Less expensive products that have the same ingredients work as well as expensive ones.
Older children and adults (even those with darker skin) benefit from using SPFs of 15 and over.
When to use sunscreen:
How to apply:
Choosing the best sunscreen:
Sunscreens are safe in most toddlers and children, but they should not be the first and only lines of defense.
All young children should be well-covered with clothing, sunglasses, and hats. Children should be kept out of the sun during peak sunlight periods.
Do not use sunscreens on babies younger than 6 months without consulting a doctor.
Green AC, Williams GM, Logan V, Strutton GM. Reduced melanoma after regular sunscreen use: randomized trial follow-up. J Clin Oncol. 2011;29(3):257-263.
Lautenschlager S, Wulf HC, Pittelkow MR. Photoprotection. The Lancet [early online publication]. May 3, 2007.
Hexsel CL, Bangert SD, Hebert AA, et al. Current sunscreen issues: 2007 Food and Drug Administration sunscreen labeling recommendations and combination sunscreen/insect repellant products. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008;59:316-323.
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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