When you’re having fun outdoors, it’s easy to forget how important it is to protect yourself from the sun. Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays in as little as 15 minutes. Yet it can take up to 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure.
Even if it’s cool and cloudy, you still need protection. UV rays, not the temperature, do the damage. Clouds do not block UV rays; they filter them—and sometimes only slightly. Remember to plan ahead, and keep sun protection handy in your car, bag, or child’s backpack.
Tan? There’s no other way to say it—tanned skin is damaged skin. Any change in the color of your skin after time outside—whether sunburn or suntan—indicates damage from UV rays. Using a tanning bed causes damage to your skin, just like the sun.
Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types, called basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are highly curable, but treatment can be disfiguring. Melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, can be deadly.
Anyone can get skin cancer, but some things put you at higher risk, like having—
- A history of sunburns.
- Exposure to the sun through work and play.
- A lighter natural skin color.
- Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
- Blue or green eyes.
- Naturally blond or red hair.
- A personal history of skin cancer.
- A family history of melanoma.
How to Protect Yourself
Take precautions against sun exposure every day of the year, especially during midday hours (10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.), when UV rays are strongest and do the most damage. UV rays can reach you on cloudy days, and can reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow.
- Seek shade, especially during midday hours.
- Cover up with clothing to protect exposed skin.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck.
- Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
- Put on sunscreen with broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection and sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher.
- Remember to reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. The UV rays from them can be stronger than UV rays from the summer sun at noon.
What CDC Is Doing About Skin Cancer
CDC works with national, state, and local partners to develop a coordinated approach to prevent future cases of skin cancer. Two recent publications describe promising strategies to prevent skin cancer specifically through reduction of indoor tanning. Co-authors included partners from the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, Cancer Council Victoria, and academic centers.
CDC is using data from nationwide surveys to learn more about skin cancer risk behaviors among the U.S. population. Two recent studiesused data from the National Health Interview Survey: one looked at indoor tanning among U.S. adults, and the other examined sun-protective behaviors and sunburn among adults under age 30. Data from the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey were used to examine sunscreen use and indoor tanning among high school students, as well as factors related to indoor tanning among male high school students.
CDC is an advisory member of the National Council for Skin Cancer Prevention, which has designated the Friday before Memorial Day “Don’t Fry Day” to encourage sun safety awareness and to remind everyone to protect their skin while enjoying the outdoors.
CDC released the Sun Safety for America’s Youth Toolkit to help local comprehensive cancer control programs engage schools and other education partners in sun safety efforts. Since the majority of sun exposure occurs during childhood and early adulthood, addressing sun safety for young people is an important cancer control objective.