Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, but is also one of the most preventable. The relationship between the sun and your skin can be a dangerous one. However, all it takes is a smart sun exposure strategy combining sunscreen, shade, and protective clothing to greatly reduce your chances of developing this deadly disease.
Alabama Students Can Apply Sunscreen at School
A law allows Alabama school students to apply personal sunscreen at school without the need for special permission from a doctor or parent. The law (Act 2017-278) includes both public and private schools. Read the full 2017 Alabama Sunscreen Law for Schools for more information.
How Does the Sun Sees You?
The video below, "How the Sun Sees You" is an exploration of skin; filmed with and without UV filters on the camera. It allows you to easily see each volunteer's skin normally and then how the sun sees it.
Important fact: Chronic sun exposure, whether from natural light or indoor tanning, is the leading cause of skin cancer. Exposure to UVA and UVB radiation from the sun, tanning beds, or sun lamps is the major cause of all three types of skin cancer - melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma.
Visit American Cancer Society - Skin Cancer Facts to learn more about the different types of skin cancer.
Skin Cancer Prevention
Sun damage builds up over time, therefore early detection of skin cancer is important and can save your life. It is important to carefully examine all of your skin once a month for any new or changing spots. Using sunscreen regularly is one of the easiest ways to prevent millions of cases of skin cancer each year. In fact, a recent study showed that just 14% of American men and 30% of American women regularly put sunscreen on their faces and other exposed skin before heading outside for more than an hour.
Here are some sun safety tips to help protect your skin from the sun:
- It is important to use sunscreen every day, even if it is cloudy.
- Choose a water resistant sunscreen, lip balm or lipstick with a SPF of 30 or higher. Other types of sunscreen may help prevent sunburn, but they will not protect against skin cancer.
- Apply at least 1 ounce of sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. Reapply every hour if you are swimming or sweating.
- Sunscreen creams are better for dry skin and gels are better for the scalp or hair areas.
- Do not use sunscreen that have expired.
- Seek shade to avoid exposure from UVA and UVB sun rays.
- Limit exposure to the sun during peak hours of 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM when the sun rays are most intense.
- Be careful around reflective surfaces that can increase your risk of being sunburned such as water, snow and sand.
- Keep babies younger than 6 months old completely covered and in the shade.
Protective Clothing and Accessories
- Wear protective clothing including long sleeves and pants made from tightly woven fabric.
- Wear sunglasses that are made to block 100% of UVA and UVB rays.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your face, head, ears and neck.
- Avoid tanning and recreational sunbathing, including tanning beds.
- They both can cause skin cancer and wrinkles.
The Sun, UV Radiation and Your Eyes
Fundamentally, we need light to see. Approximately 80% of all information we take in is received through the sense of sight. We know the sun can damage our skin, but most are unaware that our eyes are susceptible to just as much damage. Although they radiate directly from the sun, UV rays also are reflected from the ground, water, snow, sand, glass, road and other bright surfaces. Extended exposure to these rays has been linked to chronic eye diseases including cataract, growths on the eye, corneal sunburn, and eyelid cancer.
It can take years before you experience any of the sun's damaging effects on your eyes; however, if your eyes feel tired, sore and gritty after a day at the beach, skiing or boating, you may have experienced UV radiation exposure. Protect your eyes with a combination of quality sunglasses, UV-blocking contact lenses and a wide-brimmed hat. Everyone is at risk, especially children. Children typically spend more time in the sun than adults, putting them at risk for developing serious vision damage later in life without regular UV eye protection.
View these everyday steps to sun safety to learn more about eye damage prevention.
Frequently Asked Questions and Prevention
Tools and Resources
There is a wealth of information available online regarding skin cancer, its prevention, and treatment. These links are particularly helpful.
- American Academy of Dermatology
The largest dermatology group in the United States
- Aim at Melanoma
The latest research and treatment news concerning melanoma
- EPA Sun Safety
Features links and information on sun safety - UV Index and sun protection
- National Cancer Institute: Skin Cancer
Features links and information on everything ranging from prevention tips to the latest developments in treatment
- Play Safe in the Sun
Women's Dermatologic Society community outreach service
- Play It Safe in the Sun: A Guide for Parents
Centers for Disease Control guide to protecting children from the sun
- The Sunsational Guide To Smart Sun Safety: Fun in the Sun 101
Cancer Foundation interactive website geared towards kids in sixth to eighth grade
- University of Alabama Birmingham Dermatology Clinic
Skin cancer information from the UAB Health System
Page last updated: December 5, 2019