Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on August 06, 2021

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 30 or higher. Wear it even on cloudy or cool days. Reapply every 2 hours, or more often if you swim or sweat a lot.

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 with sun-protective clothing and get in the shade wherever you can.


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 self-tanning products. They usually don’t contain sunscreen, so you’ll need to apply it separately.

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 -- at least 2 inches wide. But no hat will shield you fully from UV rays, so back up with sunscreen.

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.

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, but be sure they have a UV 400-blocking lens. 


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.

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.

… 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, because they are more beneficial than supplements.

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, and make sure the sunscreen contains zinc oxide. 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.

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.

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 and aspirin may lessen any swelling. Moisturize your skin, but not with petroleum-based ointments like Vaseline that can trap heat. Look for fragrance-free 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.

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.

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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