applying sunscreen on boys face
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Don’t Skip Sunscreen

It’s the next best thing to staying out of the sun altogether. Slather a thick layer onto all exposed skin. Use “broad spectrum” sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher. Wear it even on cloudy or cool days. Reapply every 2 hours, or more often if you swim or sweat a lot.

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woman checking her time
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Time It Smart

If you must go out, it’s best to do so before 10 in the morning or after 4 in the afternoon. The in-between hours are when the ultraviolet (UV) light is strongest and most damaging to your skin. If you can’t avoid those peak hours, cover up and get under the shade wherever you can.

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tanning bed supplies
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Avoid Tanning Beds

More than a dozen states ban indoor tanning for people under 18. It raises your chances of having melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. The risk goes up the younger you are and the more often you do it. The FDA classifies UV tanning beds as “moderate to high risk” devices. A safer pick is tanning lotions that darken your skin. They usually don’t contain sunscreen, so you’ll need to apply it separately.

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three sun hats
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Wear the Right Hat

Look for a tight weave, like what you’d find in canvas-type fabric. Straw hats with holes may feel shady, but they still let in UV light that could harm your skin. The brim matters, too. The best ones go all the way around and are broad enough to shade your face, ears, and neck. But no hat will shield you fully from UV rays, so back up with sunscreen.

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auto window tinting film
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Sun-Proof Your Car

Drivers are more likely to get skin cancer on their left sides, which get the brunt of the sun’s damaging rays. You might want to keep a hat and sunscreen handy in the glove box. It also helps to put the windows and -- if you ride a convertible -- the top up. (Sorry!) A special film can line your vehicle’s glass to block UV light.

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sunglasses tint
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Slip On Sunglasses

Your eyes and the delicate skin around them need protection, too. Ultraviolet rays can turn the lenses behind your pupils cloudy, a condition called cataracts. They may even lead to macular degeneration that could cost you your vision. Most sunglasses sold in the U.S., even cheap ones, guard against UVA and UVB rays.

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mature couple embracing outdoors
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Cover Up With Long Sleeves

Clothes are a simple barrier to the sun. But they can’t protect what they don’t cover. Also, light, loosely woven fabrics won’t protect you as well as tighter, thicker fabrics like denim. Some specialized clothes have a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) number that, like SPF in sunscreen, shows how well it blocks sunlight.

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four antioxidant foods
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Favor Veggies and Fruits ...

UV light damages antioxidants, chemicals that help keep your cells healthy. You get most of your antioxidants from plant-based foods, and studies show it may help to eat more of them. Oranges and other citrus fruits are packed with the antioxidant vitamin C. Carrots and squash are good sources of beta carotene. And lycopene, which makes fruits red, is found in watermelon, tomatoes, and pink grapefruit, among other fruits and vegetables.

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salmon brazil nuts diptych
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… And Fatty Fish and Nuts

Other types of antioxidants include omega-3 fatty acids, found in seafood like tuna, salmon, and mackerel. Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium, which helps defend against free radicals that damage your cells. Antioxidants should come from foods. Supplements don’t work, and some may be dangerous.

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baby on the beach
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Protect Your Baby

A newborn’s skin is extra sensitive, not just to the sun, but also to sunscreen. So wait until about age 6 months to start using it. After that, it’s still best to limit your little one’s exposure to even indirect sunlight, especially in the heat of the day. Dress your infant in long-sleeve light cotton clothes and a wide-brimmed sun hat, and seek shade wherever you go.

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woman drinking cup of coffee
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Drink Coffee

Studies suggest a cup of java may help ward off skin cancer. The more you drink, the more it seems to help. Decaf doesn’t work, so scientists think the protective powers come from the caffeine. They’re trying to turn caffeine into a sun-protecting cream for your skin. But watch for too much coffee, especially if it makes you feel jittery or anxious.

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applying aloe gel to sunburn
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Sunburn First Aid

Get inside as soon as you notice you got burned. Soothe your skin with a cool, damp cloth, and drink lots of water. Over-the-counter ibuprofen may lessen any swelling. Moisturize your skin, but not with petroleum-based ointments like Vaseline that can trap heat. Look for lotions with aloe vera, which helps your skin repair itself. Talk to your doctor if you get blisters (don’t pop them!) or you feel sick or dizzy.

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mole on womans back
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Check Your Skin

Skin cancer is almost always curable if you catch it early. Inspect your whole body about once a month with a full-length mirror. A chair and a hand mirror can help you peek at awkward areas. Look for any new growths or changes in old spots. See a skin doctor (dermatologist) once a year or anytime you notice something unusual.

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woman talking with doctor
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Know Your Risk

Talk to your doctor about any family history of skin cancer. Other things that make you more likely to get cancer or sun damage include:

  • Lighter skin, hair, and eyes, or a history of sunburns
  • Large, numerous, or oddly shaped freckles or moles
  • Lots of time outside or on tanning beds
  • Autoimmune diseases like lupus, or a weakened immune system from conditions like HIV or AIDS
  • Medicines that make your skin more sensitive to light
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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 04/26/2019 Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on April 26, 2019

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

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SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology: “Indoor tanning.”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Sun Safety: Information for Parents About Sunburn & Sunscreen.”

American Cancer Society: “Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.”

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency: “Sun protection using hats.”

CDC: “Sun Safety,” “Radiation and Your Health,” “Skin Cancer.”

Epidemiology: “Caffeine Intake, Coffee Consumption, and Risk of Cutaneous Malignant Melanoma.”

European Journal of Cancer Prevention: “Coffee consumption and risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer: a dose-response meta-analysis.’

FDA: “Should You Put Sunscreen on Infants? Not Usually.”

Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition: “Chapter 3, Evaluation of the Nutritional and Metabolic Effects of Aloe vera.”

Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: “Coffee, tea, caffeine, and risk of non-melanoma skin cancer in a Chinese population: The Singapore Chinese Health Study.”

Journal of Skin Cancer: “Diet and Skin Cancer: The Potential Role of Dietary Antioxidants in Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer Prevention.”

Mayo Clinic: “Aloe,” “Sunless tanning: What you need to know.”

McGill University Office for Science and Society: “Moisturizing Creams and Skin Cancer.”

Skin Cancer Foundation: “Sun Safety in Cars,” “Step by Step Self-Examination,” “Sun-Safe Babies,” “Can Your Diet Help Prevent Skin Cancer?” “Protect Your Eyes: Everyday Steps to Sun Safety,” “Prevention Guidelines,” “Skin Cancer Facts and Statistics,” “Get in on the Trend,” “Sunscreen.”

SkinCancer.net: “Sun Exposure While Driving.”

University of Oxford Department of Plant Sciences Oxford Plants 400: “Aloe Vera.”

University of Washington, Right as Rain: “Can Your Coffee Habit Help Protect You From Skin Cancer?”

Harvard Health Publishing: “When Medications Make You Sensitive to Sunlight.”

Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on April 26, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.