How Common is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is common. In the United States, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year than any other type of cancer.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight causes DNA mutations in the skin that build up over time and eventually cause skin cancer. Fortunately, exposure to ultraviolet radiation is easy to prevent. We can all take steps to protect our skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
1) Wear Sunscreen Daily Regardless of Weather or Activities
Sunscreen should be worn even on days that are overcast or cold. Look for sunscreen that is water-resistant, at least 30 SPF, and broad-spectrum, which means it protects against UVA and UVB rays. Applied sunscreen should cover all exposed skin areas and must be reapplied every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
What Sunscreens Do You Recommend?
- Environmentally friendly: Stream2Sea
- Dry skin: Elta MD UV Elements
- Acne: Elta MD Clear
- Ultra-Sensitive adult: Vanicream Free and Clear Sunscreen
- Ultra-Sensitive child: Vanicream Free and Clear, Badger Unscented, Blue Lizard
We recommend products with The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation.
For sprays: do not inhale, and keep away from open flames
Did you know you can get sunscreen built into your make-up, lotion, soap or aftershave?
Additional suggestions: Colorescience Sunforgettable Powder Sunscreen, Solbar or Bullfrog gel, L’Oreal Paris Men Expert Hydra Energetic After Shave Balm, Klenskin Bar soap or body wash
Though not a replacement for sunscreen, some supplements have been shown to provide additional sun protection benefit. These are available “over the counter” and do not require a prescription.
Heliocareis an antioxidant pill made from a plant extract.1 The manufacturer recommends a dose for daily sun exposure of 2 capsules a day; 1 pill in the morning about 30 minutes before initial sun exposure, and 1 pill about 30 minutes before lunch. For intense sun exposure, the recommended dose is 4 capsules a day; 2 pills in the morning about 30 minutes before initial sun exposure, and 2 pills 3 hours after the first dose.
Nicotinamideis a form of vitamin B3. The recommended dose for sun protection in patients with a history of skin cancer is 500 mg, taken as a pill twice a day.2
Visit skincancer.org and Consumer Reports for additional reliable information.
2) Cover up with UPF Sun Protective Clothing
What is UPF?
UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor. UPF is the ratio of the measured UV light exposure without protection compared with the measured UV light exposure with the protection of the fabric.
Covering exposed skin with UPF sun-protective clothing is a simple way to protect from the sun’s damaging rays. A lightweight long-sleeved shirt and pants provide excellent protection during the day. In fact, many options are wicking and actually keep you feeling cooler than if you were wearing short sleeves. Bathing suits, hats, and baby clothes are all available with UPF fabric.
Companies that offer UPF protective clothing:
- Adult: Sunprecautions, Land’s End, J. Crew, Under Armour, O’Neill, Columbia Sportswear, L.L. Bean
- Child & Infant: Coolibar, UVSkinz, ABG Accessories
3) Wear a Hat and Sunglasses
It’s easy to forget while slathering on the sunscreen, but our eyes are also at risk for damage from the sun’s rays. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses whenever possible will help protect eyes from sun damage. Sunglasses should be labeled with UVA/UVB protection. Coppertone Lenses and Maui Jim Sunglasses meet the Skin Cancer Foundation’s criteria for safe and effective UV sun protection products.
Tip: Keep an extra hat and sunglasses in your car, purse, or gym bag.
4) Seek Shade
Avoiding the sun and seeking the shade whenever possible can reduce the risk of skin cancer. The sun’s UV rays are strongest between 10 am and 2 pm.
Tip: If there is no natural shade available, consider bringing your own. Sun umbrellas, such as those made by Sunbrella, provide portable UVA/UVB protection and shade.
5) Try out an App
Some people have medical conditions that make them exquisitely sensitive to the sun. Others may be going on vacation with plans to be outdoors in sunny locals. Either way, it may be fun to try out an app that can report the UV forecast, track your UV exposure and/or remind you when to re-apply your sunscreen.
- SunSprite tracks your UV exposure (requires a wearable device)
- UVLens (uvlens.com) is a free app for iOS and Android that offers a daily UV forecast.
- UV US – Weather Forecast, UV index and Alerts
- EPA’s SunWise UV Index
- Ultraviolet ~ UV Index
- Weather Clock Widget
For more information, visit:
- The American Academy of Dermatology, aad.org
- The American Cancer Society, cancer.org
- Skin Cancer Foundation, skincancer.org
Melanie Bui, MD, PhD, is a dermatologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center and an assistant professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. Cari E. Carpenter, ’21, is a medical student at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.
- Middelkamp-Hup MA, Pathak MA, Parrado C, Goukassian D, Rius-Díaz F, Mihm MC, Fitzpatrick TB, González S. Oral Polypodium leucotomos extract decreases ultraviolet-induced damage of human skin. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2004 Dec 1;51(6):910-8.
- Chen AC, Martin AJ, Choy B, Fernández-Peñas P, Dalziell RA, McKenzie CA, Scolyer RA, Dhillon HM, Vardy JL, Kricker A, St. George G. A phase 3 randomized trial of nicotinamide for skin-cancer chemoprevention. New England Journal of Medicine. 2015 Oct 22;373(17):1618-26.