Protecting your skin from cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. Yet a recent survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults found that 61 percent of Americans are not concerned about developing skin cancer, although 67 percent of respondents have characteristics that put them at risk. In its current campaign to help reduce the risk of skin cancer, The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is encouraging the public to practice safe sun.

“I’m very surprised to see that so many people are not concerned about developing skin cancer, which is the most common type of cancer in the United States,” says board-certified dermatologist Terrence A. Cronin Jr., MD, FAAD, and president of the AAD.

It is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Everyone is at risk for skin cancer, and we increase that risk if we do not protect ourselves from the sun when we are outside. Overexposure to UV radiation from the sun or indoor tanning is the most preventable cause of skin cancer. While skin cancer develops in people of all ages, genders, races, and nationalities, there are characteristics that can increase one’s risk. Risk factors for all types of skin cancer include skin that burns easily; blonde or red hair; a history of excessive sun exposure, including sunburns; tanning bed use; a weakened immune system; and a history of skin cancer.

While most of the survey respondents did not express a concern about skin cancer, many were concerned about sunburn and premature aging. In fact, 48 percent said they were more worried about avoiding sunburn than they were about preventing skin cancer. Additionally, 29 percent were more worried about avoiding premature wrinkles than they are about preventing skin cancer.

“While it’s great to see that people are concerned about sunburn and premature aging, they should be more concerned about skin cancer as it can disfigure you and even cause death if it’s not diagnosed early when it’s most treatable,” says Dr. Cronin. “By using sun protection when you are going to be outside, you can reduce your risk of all three: skin cancer, sunburn, and premature aging.”


To protect yourself from the sun and reduce your risk of skin cancer, the AAD recommends that we:

SEEK SHADE. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 2 pm. If your shadow appears to be shorter than you are, seek shade. 

WEAR SUN-PROTECTIVE CLOTHING. Wear lightweight long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible. For more effective protection, choose clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on the label.

APPLY A BROAD-SPECTRUM SUNSCREEN WITH AN SPF OF 30 OR HIGHER. Broad-spectrum sunscreen provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Make sure it is water resistant and apply it to all exposed skin.

Dr. Cronin, who lives in Florida, says he protects his family by recommending wearing hats, seeking shade, rocking sunglasses, wearing sun protective clothing, and, of course, applying an effective sunscreen. “Skin cancer can have a serious impact on your health and well-being,” Dr. Cronin says. “I encourage everyone to practice safe sun to reduce their risk of skin cancer. In addition, if you notice new or suspicious spots on your skin, or have any spots that are changing, itching or bleeding, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist.”

To learn more about how to prevent skin cancer, visit practicesafesun.org. To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/findaderm.