We’re smarter than ever about using sunscreen to protect our precious skin. Yet, even as sunscreen use increases, so do skin cancer rates. In fact, skin cancer rates have tripled in the last 35 years, says the National Cancer Institute.
As if skin cancer isn’t scary enough, who wants the other effect of too much sun exposure: early skin aging. The only way to reduce skin damage and cancer risks from too much sun exposure is to manage the factors that you can—largely avoiding UV rays and sunburns.


1. Shop Smart

About 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are caused by exposure to UV radiation from the sun. The FDA recently made sunscreen manufacturers clarify their labels:

  • New warning: Sunscreens that aren’t “broad spectrum” (considered protective against the full spectrum of the sun’s UV rays) now warn: “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”
  • Time limits: If the product claims water resistance for either 40 or 80 minutes, it’s a water-resistant product. Without this claim and either of these times, the product is not proven water resistant.
  • No exaggerated claims: There is no sunscreen that is “waterproof,” “sweat proof” or is a “sunblock,” the FDA says.

2. Safe Sun Strategies

  • Use SPF 15+ sunscreen and lots of it.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or more if you’re sweating or jumping in and out of the water.
  • Stay out of the sun between 10am and 2pm when the rays are most intense.
  • Cover up with shirts, pants, sunglasses and hats.

3. Manage Your Skin Cancer Risks

Sunscreen alone can’t reduce your skin cancer risks. Your lifetime exposure to the sun and UV rays matters. Using sunscreen to prevent sunburn is just the first step, say experts at the National Cancer Institute and the CDC:

Controllable risk factors:

  • Never use tanning beds
  • Protect against UV exposure
  • Avoid sunburns

Non-controllable risk factors:

  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Having a lot of moles on your skin
  • Having fair or freckled skin

Carolyn Davis Cockey, MLS, LCCE, is founding editor of Healthy Mom&Baby, Senior Director of Partnerships & Publications at AWHONN, and a Lamaze-certified childbirth educator in Sarasota, FL.

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