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How to Combine Strategies to Lower Your Risk of Skin Cancer This Summer

Photo: Courtesy of Diane Walton

Lisa Richardson, M.D., M.P.H.

Director, Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

While sun protection is important year-round, people spend more time outside in the warmer months. It can take as little as 15 minutes for your skin to be damaged from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Just a few simple steps can help you enjoy your time outside safely, without increasing your skin cancer risk. Combine these tips to protect yourself and your family.

Seek shade

Especially during midday hours. This includes 10 am to 4 pm, March through October, and 9 am to 3 pm, November through February. Umbrellas, trees, or other shelters can provide relief from the sun. 

Be extra careful around surfaces that reflect the sun’s rays, like snow, sand, water, and concrete.

Wear a hat

Hats that shade the face, scalp, ears, and neck are easy to use and give great protection. Baseball caps are popular, but they don’t protect your ears and neck. If you choose a cap, be sure to protect exposed areas with sunscreen.

Cover up

When possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants or skirts can provide protection from UV rays. 

Apply a thick layer of broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher at least 15 minutes before going outside, even on cloudy or overcast days. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.

Think summer hasn’t truly started until you get your first sunburn of the year? Think again. Research has clearly shown that each time you get a sunburn, you increase your chances of a skin cancer diagnosis in the future.

We know it’s not uncommon, especially for young people, to want to be tan, but every time you tan, you increase your risk of getting skin cancer. Encourage your children to embrace their natural skin color. Younger children may be more receptive than teens, so start the conversation early, before they start tanning. Parental permission is the biggest predictor of whether teens choose to indoor tan, so discourage it, even if it’s just before one event like prom or a beach trip.   

We can all appreciate the mental and physical benefits of spending time in the great outdoors. Enjoy those benefits without increasing your skin cancer risk by making sun safety a habit. This summer, and all year, don’t stop at just one sun-safety strategy. Add them up for the best protection. 

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