How to Prevent Skin Cancer

Next Article Previous Article

How to Prevent Skin Cancer 

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, approximately 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer before the age of 70. This adds up to more skin cancer diagnoses in the United States than all other types of cancer combined. Fortunately, there are several measures you can take to mitigate the chances of being part of this grim statistic. In the guide below, you’ll learn how to stay protected, stay aware and ultimately how to prevent skin cancer both for you and your loved ones.

Apply (and Reapply) Sunscreen 

Skin cancer prevention starts by understanding that exposure to the outdoors always means exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays — even when it’s cloudy. The best way to combat this? Wear sunscreen every day—truly. Dermatologists recommend applying a minimum of broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen (about 1.5 ounces total) to all exposed areas of the skin before heading outside. Activity and perspiration will wear down your protective layer over time, so if you're unsure how often to reapply sunscreen, the general rule is to reapply to all exposed areas every two hours.  

Practice Sun Safety 

Once you’re set with your first line of defense (sunscreen), it’s now time to consider some general practices around sun safety. Here are a few additional tips to help keep your skin cells free of the big “C”:

  1. Minimize your outdoor time between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.—this is when the sun’s harmful UV rays are at their most potent.
  2. Throw shade—both in what you wear and what you place on your head. Sun-protective clothing with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50+ helps cover the places you might have missed with sunscreen while hats with wide brims dramatically decrease sun exposure to the face, ears and neck.
  3. Check yourself regularly. Invest in a good mirror (and maybe even a ring light!) and be sure to keep an eye out for odd shapes, moles or lesions on your skin.  

Avoid Indoor Tanning 

Tanning beds are so ’80s—avoid them like a bad pair of neon leg warmers. The high-powered UVB lights from tanning beds are damaging to your skin—even if you’re wearing sunscreen. Keep in mind that any change in skin color after UV exposure (whether it’s a bronze or a burn) is a sign of skin damage, not skin health. Sorry, Snooky: there’s no such thing as a healthy “base tan.” 

Examine Your Skin 

Different types of skin cancers show up in different ways, so for a general self-exam, we recommend a thorough once-over of your skin from head to toe. If you notice any odd bumps, sores or misshapen/miscolored moles, it’s worth having an expert look at it.  

What Is Skin Cancer? 

Skin cancers come in several forms, but it can best be described as the abnormal growth of damaged skin cells. This can result in the unchecked growth of these cells in the affected area and—if left untreated—can spread to other parts of the body. According to the American Cancer Society, the deadliest form of skin cancer, Melanoma, kills more than 10,000 Americans per year.  

What Causes Skin Cancer? 

Skin cancer is most commonly caused by overexposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays. Excessive UV exposure over time will damage the DNA in our skin cells, causing these cells to mutate and grow out of control, potentially leading to the development of skin cancer. While UV overexposure is by far the most common cause of skin cancer, additional genetic factors do contribute to skin cancers like melanoma—even if the affected area typically isn’t exposed to the sun.  

Types of Skin Cancer 

The three most common forms of skin cancer are the following:

  • Basal cell carcinoma. Beginning in the basal cells in the outer layer of skin, these cancers generally appear as a waxy bump or a flat, flesh-colored or brown, scar-like lesion.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma. This is also an outer-layer cell. Signs often come in the form of a hard, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly surface.
  • Melanoma. Melanoma, caused by the pigment-producing cells in our skin, makes up a small fraction of skin cancers, but it's also considered more dangerous because of its ability to spread to other organs more rapidly if it is not treated at an early stage. The best way to look for melanoma symptoms is to use the ABCDE’s of skin cancer: Asymmetry in the mole, irregular Borders, Color changes, Diameter bigger than a pencil eraser and mole Evolution (changing over time).   

Who Is Most at Risk for Skin Cancer? 

To be clear: everyone is at risk of skin cancer, regardless of skin tone. However, the following factors do increase your risk, so be on high alert if this is you: 

  • Heavy exposure to UV rays 
  • Lighter skin 
  • A family history of skin cancer 
  • Prevalent moles 
  • Multiple severe sunburns in the past 
  • A weakened immune system 
  • Living in a region with a high UV index