U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Protect Your Skin from the Sun

The Basics

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun.

  • Stay in the shade as much as possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
  • Cover up with long sleeves, a hat, and sunglasses.

Why do I need to protect my skin from the sun?
Protecting your skin from the sun today may help prevent skin cancer later in life. Most skin cancer appears after age 50, but skin damage from the sun can start during childhood.

Staying out of the sun and using sunscreen may also help prevent:

  • Wrinkles
  • Blotches or spots on your skin
  • Other damage caused by the sun

What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the United States. There are 3 major types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the 2 most common kinds of skin cancer. They are both also called non-melanoma skin cancer. The most dangerous kind of skin cancer is called melanoma.

Skin cancer can almost always be cured when it’s found and treated early. That’s why it’s a good idea to check your skin regularly for new growths (like moles or lumps) or changes in old growths. Tell your doctor or nurse right away if you find a change.

Visit these websites to learn more about skin cancer:

What causes skin cancer?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. UV radiation can also come from tanning booths or sunlamps.

Anyone can get skin cancer. The risk is highest for people with:

  • White or light-colored skin with freckles
  • Blond or red hair
  • Blue or green eyes

You are at higher risk for the most dangerous type of skin cancer (melanoma) if you have:

  • Unusual moles
  • A large number of moles (more than 50)
  • A family history of melanoma

Get more information about things that could increase your risk for skin cancer. Talk with your doctor or nurse.

Take Action!

Take Action!

Take simple steps to help prevent skin cancer.

Stay in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The sun’s rays are the strongest from mid-morning to late afternoon. Try to stay out of the sun during these hours.

Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
Use sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection. To get the most protection:

  • Wear sunscreen even on cloudy days. UV rays can still harm your skin through the clouds.
  • Plan ahead – put sunscreen on 30 minutes before you go outside.
  • Be sure to use enough sunscreen (a handful). Don’t forget to apply it to your lips, ears, hands, feet, and the back of your neck.
  • If you wear very light clothing, put sunscreen on under your clothes.
  • Put on more sunscreen every 2 hours and after you swim or sweat.

Cover up with long sleeves, a hat, and sunglasses.
Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants or a long skirt. A hat with a wide brim can help protect your face and neck.

The skin around your eyes is very sensitive. Wear wrap-around sunglasses to help protect your eyes and your skin from sun damage.

Check your skin regularly.
Many doctors recommend that you check your whole body once a month. Pick a day and mark it on your calendar so you don’t forget.

Use mirrors.
The best place to do a skin self-exam is in a well-lit room in front of a mirror. The best time is right after a shower or bath.

Examine your skin from head to toe. Use a hand mirror to check hard-to-see areas like your back. You may want to ask a friend or relative to check your scalp (under your hair).

Follow these step-by-step instructions on how to do a skin self-exam.

Look for changes.

  • Learn where your birthmarks, spots, and moles are and what they usually look and feel like. Use this chart to keep track of your self-exams [PDF - 772 KB].
  • Check the growths on your skin for changes in size, shape, color, or feel.
  • Check for anything new – a sore that doesn’t heal, a mole that bleeds, or any new growths.

Get more tips on how to spot an unusual mole.

If you find any changes that worry you, see a doctor.
See a doctor or nurse right away if you find any changes that worry you. Most changes are harmless, but only a doctor or nurse can tell you for sure.

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