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How to Prevent Skin Cancer

This picture shows a blue sky with a few white clouds and a beaming sun.

Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30+ on sunny and cloudy days.

Protecting skin from the sun is the best way to prevent skin cancer.

Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) rays. Indoor tanning equipment is also a source of UV rays. Most skin cancers are a result of UV rays.

Some medicines, chemotherapy and radiation can increase your sensitivity to the sun. This can cause you to burn more easily.

Although rare, radiation treatment can raise the risk of skin cancer. This usually happens in the area where you received radiation. For childhood cancer survivors treated with radiation, skin cancer is the most common second cancer.

Sun safety tips to prevent skin cancer

There are things you can do to prevent skin cancer.

Use sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has sun protection factor (SPF) 30+. Do this on both sunny and cloudy days at least 30 minutes before going outdoors.

Apply sunscreen every 2 hours. Put it on again after swimming or perspiring (sweating). Water and sweat can remove sunscreen.

Use zinc oxide for extra protection on the nose, cheeks, shoulders, and tops of the ears.

Wear protective clothing:

  • A hat with a wide brim
  • Sunglasses that provide 99–100% UV protection
  • Tightly woven, loose-fitting clothes
  • Use sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30+ liberally on both sunny and cloudy days at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. Broad spectrum means the product offers protection from 2 types of damaging UV rays – UVA and UVB.

Related Blog Post

Staying Safe in the Sun as a Cancer Survivor

Surgery and radiation can cause certain parts of your body to be sensitive to the sun. Chemotherapy can make your entire body sensitive to UV rays.

Read the blog post

Hands squeezing blue bottle of sunscreen

Apply a generous amount of sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outdoors.

Limit time in the midday sun: The sun’s UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Limit exposure to the sun during these hours.

Pay attention to the UV index: The UV index measures the UV radiation expected to reach the earth’s surface when the sun is highest in the sky (around midday.) It can range from 0–12.

  • 0–2: Low
  • 3–5: Moderate
  • 6–7: High
  • 8–10: Very high
  • 11–12: Extreme

You can find local UV index forecasts on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website. Enter your ZIP code or use the mobile app

This picture shows a cyclist on a road bike wearing a helmet under a blue sky with a bright sun.

Limit time in the midday sun when UV rays are strongest.

Stay in the shade: Find shade when UV rays are most intense. But shade does not offer complete sun protection. Continue to use sunscreen. 

Do not use tanning beds or sun lamps: Indoor tanning equipment produces UV radiation. This includes including beds, lamps, bulbs, and booths. The amount of UV radiation produced by indoor tanning is like the sun.  

Self-tanning lotions and salon spray tans are healthier options to get a tan. 

Vitamin D  

Sun exposure is needed to make vitamin D in the skin. Lack of sunlight may lead to vitamin D deficiency. You may need a vitamin D supplement. Check with your health care provider. 

Key points about how to prevent skin cancer

  • Protecting skin from the sun is the best way to prevent skin cancer. 
  • Use sunscreen.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Limit sun exposure.
  • Don’t use indoor tanning.
  • Ask your health care provider if you need to take vitamin D supplements.

Reviewed: January 2023