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What Can I do to Avoid Skin Cancer?

As the days get longer, many of us will be out enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. However, it is important to remember the dangers of too much sun. Death and morbidity from skin cancer can be reduced by changing modifiable risk factors regarding sun exposure.

Prevention education is as important for children as it is for adults, because sunburns in childhood significantly increase the risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Sun exposure during childhood (up to 18 years old) is estimated to account for almost 80 percent of one's lifetime sun exposure, so children have the greatest potential to benefit from sun protection. Healthy behavior patterns established in early childhood often persist throughout life. Educating parents and caregivers will help shape healthy attitudes and behaviors regarding activities in the sun.

Skin cancer can be prevented, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The challenge lies in changing the attitudes and behaviors that increase a person's risk of developing skin cancer. Parents, health-care providers, schools, and community organizations can develop and provide educational strategies that reinforce sun protection behaviors, and change misunderstandings about exposure to the sun.

Parents and caregivers are in a unique position to influence children's health values. Parents, health care providers, schools, and community organizations can develop and provide educational strategies that reinforce protection from the sun (for example, altering time of outdoor activities or using shade while out-doors) and change attitudes about exposure to the sun. Below are some points to remember:

  • Overexposure to sun, especially when you get a sunburn, can cause skin cancer. Avoid the sun altogether from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; this is when the sun's rays are strongest.
  • When out in the sun, wear a minimum Sun Protection Factor of 15 to 30. Make sure it is waterproof and contains titanium dioxide, an opaque agent that blocks light.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours when outdoors, even on cloudy days.
  • Pay attention to what the UV index is for the day. The UV index is a number between 0 to 10+. It indicates the amount of UV radiation reaching the surface around noontime. The higher the number, the greater your exposure to UV radiation.
  • Cloudy skies block only about 20% of UV radiation. Snow and sand reflect sunlight and increase UV radiation. Avoid reflective surfaces; they can reflect up to 89& of the sun's damaging rays.
  • If you receive a sunburn that is accompanied by fever, chills, upset stomach, and confusion, see your doctor immediately.
  • Sunscreen should not be used on children under 6 months of age because the chemicals may be too strong for their skin. Protect children by keeping them out of the sun, minimizing sun exposure. Begin applying sunscreen to children after about seven months of age.
  • Wear sunglasses that block 99 to 100 % of UVA and UVB rays. If there is no label on the sunglasses, do not buy them. Darkness of the lenses have nothing to do with ability to block rays. UV protection comes from an invisible chemical applied to the lenses.
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing in the sun. Tightly weaved cloth is the best to wear. As of 1997, the FDA had not approved any "sun-protective clothing".
  • Wear a hat with a four-inch-wide brim, even when walking short distances.
  • Stay in the shade whenever possible.
  • Avoid "tanning pills". The main ingredient in tanning pills, canthaxanthin, can deposit in the eyes in the form of crystals causing injury and impaired vision. There is one reported case of a woman dying from aplastic anemia, which was attributed to her use of tanning pills.
  • Tanning accelerators have not been approved by the FDA.
  • If you use artificial tanning, (tanning bed), make sure it is FDA regulated: has a timer to limit the amount of exposure one can receive in a session, comes with UV-blocking goggles, which should always be worn when using the tanning bed, and provides information on proper use.
  • Perform regular skin checks. Look for signs of change in size, shape, texture, and color of blemishes or a sore that does not heal.

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Date of Last Update: 07/27/12