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Sun Protection


The relationship between sun exposure and cancer

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. Nearly 5 million people in the U.S. are treated for skin cancer every year. Most cases of skin cancer are, however, preventable.

Despite efforts to address skin cancer risk factors, such as inadequate sun protection and intentional tanning, skin cancer rates, including rates of melanoma, have continued to increase in the United States and worldwide.

In 2014 the Surgeon General issued a call to action saying skin cancer “is a major public health problem that requires immediate action”.

There are many things you can do to protect yourself and your family from skin cancer. Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Sunlight is the main source of UV rays. Tanning lamps and beds are also sources of UV rays. People who get a lot of UV exposure are at greater risk for skin cancer.

Protect Yourself from the Sun

Reduce Exposure to the Sun

It’s important to limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. Even on an overcast day, up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can get through the clouds. Stay in the shade as much Hat.Ocean.Sun.Shade.Child.Beach250Has possible throughout the day. Keep very young children (6 months or less) away from direct sunlight at any time of day.

Dress Properly

Wear clothes that protect your body. If you plan on being outside on a sunny day, cover as much of your body as possible. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves, and pants. A wet shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors.

Sun-protective clothing is available. However, the FDA only regulates such products if the manufacturer intends to make a medical claim. Consider using an umbrella for shade. Sun protective clothing can be obtained from the following:


Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the skin around your eyes from sun exposure. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard.

Use Sunscreen

Sunscreens work by either absorbing the damaging rays of the sun before they reach your skin or by reflecting them away, similar to a mirror or aluminum foil. Chemical sunscreens are the types that absorb sunlight and physical blockers are the reflecting types.

When sunlight is absorbed by chemical sunscreens (such as benzones, amino benzoic acid and cinnamates), there is the concern that they can generate free radicals, which can also damage skin cells. There is also the concern that when applied to damaged or broken skin the sun absorbing ingredients can enter the bloodstream.

Physical blockers (minerals such as zinc and titanium) sit on the skin’s surface and reflect light and are not absorbed into the skin. For these reasons, dermatologists frequently recommend sunscreens based on physical blockers like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

People with sensitive skin can react to many things including the chemicals in sunscreen, the preservatives, or even the base itself.

Choosing a sunscreen

Check the label to make sure you get:

  • a “sun protection factor” (SPF) of 30 or more. SPF represents the degree to which a sunscreen can protect the skin from exposure to UV rays.
  • “broad spectrum” protection—a sunscreen that protects against all types of skin damage caused by sunlight: UVB radiation, which primarily causes sunburn, and UVA radiation, which contributes to skin cancer and early skin aging.
  • water resistance—sunscreen that stays on your skin longer, even if it gets wet. Reapply water-resistant sunscreens as instructed on the label. No sunscreen is “waterproof” because all sunscreens eventually wash off.

Tips for Applying Sunscreen

Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen, which is why sunburns and tanning can occur despite using sunscreen. To achieve the SPF shown on the label, you should use apply the equivalent of a shot glass (two tablespoons) of sunscreen to the exposed areas of your face and body.

  • Apply sunscreen evenly to all uncovered skin, especially your lips, nose, ears, neck, hands, and feet.
  • Apply 15 minutes before going out in the sun.
  • If you don’t have much hair, apply sunscreen to the top of your head, or wear a hat.
  • Reapply at least every two hours or immediately after swimming.
  • Give babies and children extra care in the sun. Ask your health care professional before applying sunscreen to children under 6 months old.
  • Never apply sunscreen to damaged or broken skin.


The first time you apply a new product use a small amount (about the size of a pea) to the pulse of your wrist or the crook of your elbow. Do not wash the area for 24-48 hours and watch for any allergic reaction such as redness, a rash, any form of breakouts on the skin, itchiness, pain, flaking etc.

Take care of your skin immediately after sun exposure. Apply moisturizer to protect tour skin and follow your daily regimen.

Sunburn Alert: If you use any topical product that contains an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) it may increase your skin’s sensitivity to sunburn. Use sunscreen, wear protective clothing, and limit sun exposure while using this product and for a week afterward. 

Examine yourself for skin cancer

Most skin cancers can be found early. Regular exams by your doctor and checking your own skin frequently can help find cancers early, when they are easier to treat.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone practice monthly self-examination of his or her skin.

Frequent exams are particularly important for people with a higher risk of skin cancer, such as people with reduced immunity, people who have had skin cancer before, and people with a family history of skin cancer.

For more information on skin cancer and how to examine yourself go to the Skin Cancer Foundation website: You will find pictures and descriptions of skin cancers, information and educational materials.

Source: Modified from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration