Exposure to the sun is the risk factor for skin cancer that you can most easily control. Here are some tips on how to do it:
Choosing and Using Sunscreens
Use a water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 on all parts of your body that will be exposed to the sun. Put on more sunscreen at least once every two hours, even on overcast days. You should also put on more sunscreen after you have been swimming or sweating; when your skin gets wet, some of the sunscreen on it will wash off. And if you've dried yourself with a towel, you need to put on more sunscreen because sunscreen can rub off as well as washing off.
Select a broad-spectrum sunscreen - one that protects against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun. Both kinds of ultraviolet rays can damage your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer.
The American Academy of Dermatology recently made it easier to choose the best sunscreens - the kind that are broad-spectrum and water-resistant and have an SPF of 15 or higher. Only sunscreens that meet these criteria can carry the AAD Seal of RecognitionT, which you can find on product labels and on ads and store displays.
Ideally, you should put on sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before you go outdoors. Be sure to put some on all of the exposed areas of your skin, especially your face, ears, hands, and arms. (People tend to forget the ears.) Put on plenty: most people use only ¼ to ½ of the recommended amount. It takes about one ounce of sunscreen to cover the exposed areas of an adult's body properly.
Since your lips are exposed to the sun, too, use a lip balm that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Look at the labels of lip balm products that are designed to prevent or treat chapped lips; you will find that some of them also contain sunscreen.
Other Ways to Protect Yourself from the Sun
Limit the amount of time you spend in the sun. Some people think that if they wear sunscreen, they can safely stay out in the sun all day. This isn't true. Sunscreens don't protect you completely.
When it's possible, wear clothing that protects you from the sun, such as a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, a hat (preferably a wide-brimmed hat that covers your ears, rather than a baseball cap), and sunglasses.
Stay in the shade when you can, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is the time of day when the ultraviolet rays from the sun are at their strongest.
Be especially careful to protect yourself from the sun when you are near water, snow, or sand because they reflect sunlight.
Don't deliberately try to get a tan.
Don't deliberately go out in the sun in an effort to get enough vitamin D. Instead, get your vitamin D from the foods you eat (especially vitamin D-fortified milk) or a dietary supplement.
The Food and Drug Administration has proposed a new way of labeling sunscreens that would take into account how well they protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Instead of just having SPF ratings, which are based only on a sunscreen's ability to protect against UVB rays, the new labels would have both SPF ratings and a system of zero to four stars, indicating how effectively the sunscreen protects against UVA. As of March 2008, the new regulation had not gone into effect, but if it does, it will make it easier for people to choose the most effective sunscreen products.