We all like to have fun in the sun, but most of us also know that too much sun can be harmful. Unprotected exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can lead to skin health issues, including wrinkles, discoloration, and skin cancer. So, how can you enjoy the sun worry-free?

If you're wondering how to prevent skin cancer and minimize sun damage, you've come to the right place.

How Are UV Rays and Skin Cancer Related?

UV rays are the major culprit behind skin cancer. Although you can't see them, UV light penetrates your skin and damages your skin cells' DNA. With enough damage, your skin cells start to divide and grow uncontrollably, which can lead to cancer.

There are two main types of UV rays from the sun: UVA and UVB. And while they affect your skin differently, both can contribute to skin cancer.

Woman relaxing in the swimming pool.

UVA Damage

Most of the sun's UV rays are UVA. These rays seep deeper into the skin and are responsible for sun-related skin damage such as fine lines, wrinkles, and brown spots, making your skin appear older. UVA rays are present all day, year-round, and in all types of weather. And they're not to be taken lightly—these rays can even sneak through windows and thin clothing.

UVB Damage

Although UVB rays make up just 5 percent of the sun's light, they have more energy than UVA rays. That's why they're known as the "burning" rays. These rays can hurt the skin's outer layer (epidermis) and cause painful sunburns.

Exposure to UVA and UVB rays adds up over your lifetime. Whenever you spend unprotected time in the sun, UV rays damage your skin. As this damage accumulates over time, it contributes to visible signs of skin aging and increases your skin cancer risk.

Does Sunscreen Prevent Skin Cancer?

Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer. So, one of the simplest ways to reduce your skin cancer risk is to use sunscreen daily, no matter the season or weather. Though you may not feel the sun as strongly on gray, overcast days, you still need sunscreen. Up to 80 percent of the sun's UV rays can pass through clouds. Protect exposed skin when you head out for a run or even a trip to the grocery store.

But not just any sun protection product will do. Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Tinted sunscreens also protect against visible blue light and prevent hyperpigmentation. Choose a water-resistant product to shield yourself for 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating.

Using Sunscreen Properly

Don't be shy when applying sunscreen. The average person needs about an ounce (two tablespoons) of sunscreen for full-body coverage 15 minutes before heading outside. Pay attention to easy-to-miss areas like your ears, behind your knees, and the tops of your feet.

Remember, sunscreen isn't a "set it and forget it" product. Over time, it wears off. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends reapplying sunscreen to dry skin at least every two hours and after swimming or sweating. Touch up your sunscreen frequently to provide the extra protection you need against sun damage and skin cancer.

Your Sun-Safety Plan: How to Prevent Skin Cancer

Daily sunscreen is an important way to protect against UV rays, but protecting yourself from skin cancer calls for a comprehensive approach. Here are some tips to help keep your skin healthy and cancer-free.

Avoid Peak Sunlight Hours

If possible, avoid the outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are strongest. You can also check the UV index for your area, which tells you how strong the UV rays are. The higher the number, the higher the risk of UV exposure. If you're outside during peak hours, reapply your sunscreen more often.

Stay in the Shade

An umbrella, tree, or awning all provide relief from the sun. Still, they aren't foolproof sun protection, so wear sunscreen, too.

Dress to Protect

Long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat can take some of the sting out of the sun's harsh rays. Choose darker colors and tightly woven fabrics for better protection. Some clothing is also labeled with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating, which tells you how much of the sun's rays the fabric blocks. And remember sunglasses! Look for shades with a 100 percent UVA/UVB rating to protect your eyes and the skin around them.

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

UV light bounces off everything, from water to snow to sand, intensifying the rays. Take extra care in these environments. Location matters, too. The sun is stronger closer to the equator, and UV radiation ramps up at higher elevations, increasing about 10 percent with every 1,000 meters of altitude.

Check Your Skin

Make it a habit to check your skin regularly at home to look for new or changing spots or growths. Skin cancer is treatable when it's caught early.

Visit Your Dermatologist

Your Derm is your best resource for maintaining skin health. Schedule an exam with your Derm at least once a year to detect abnormal moles or other suspicious skin growths.

Healthy Habits Mean Healthy Skin

Protecting your skin from cancer isn't complicated, but it can take some planning and awareness. The first step is to find your perfect sunscreen and use it regularly. Then, practice good sun care habits every day. This will save you a world of worry in the future. And, as always, talk to your Derm if you have any questions.



    Maria Robinson, MD, MBA is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist with over ten years of clinical experience. Dr. Robinson has a passion for nutrition and integrative dermatology, and is the co-founder of www.integrativederm.org, where people can explore holistic dermatology treatments. Through her writing, she strives to empower people with accurate health information so they can make positive decisions that lead to healthy and vibrant skin.

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