Skin Cancer: Protecting yourself and your family

With more than two million people diagnosed each year, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. While most cases of skin cancer can be successfully treated if found early, the large and growing number of people getting the disease makes skin cancer a serious concern. Those of us who spend most of our working hours in the outdoors are exposed to the harmful effects of the sun more than most people, and while you can’t always choose your hours or your work location, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the sun’s ultra violet (UV) radiation.

Protection from UV radiation is important all year round, not just during the summer months. UV rays can reach your skin on cloudy, hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days. It is important that you take UV radiation and the harm it can cause seriously. The best thing you can do to protect yourself outside is wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more. The Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) also recommends easy options for protection from the suns rays:

  • Wear clothing to protect exposed skin
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around your head
  • Seek shade when you can take a break from your work

The sun emits three types of ultraviolet radiation; two of these types (UVA and UVB) are what you should be concerned with. A good sunscreen will block both of these radiation types. When choosing a sunscreen, you should also make sure you get one with a minimum of SPF 15. SPF refers to the amount of time you will be protected from a burn. An SPF of 15 will allow a person to stay out in the sun 15 times longer than they normally would be able to without burning. The sun’s UV rays can do damage to your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Make sure you put sunscreen on 30 minutes before you go outside, even if it’s a cloudy or cool day. Sunscreen wears off overtime so it is important to reapply every 2 hours. Also, check the expiration date on your sunscreen; normally sunscreen expires in about 3 years.

Protective Clothing Loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and long pants made from tightly woven fabric will provide your skin the best prevention from the sun’s rays. Darker colors should be chosen over lighter ones, and make sure to keep your clothing dry throughout the day. Make sure to wear a hat to protect your face, for better coverage, choose a hat with a wide brim all the way around that will shade your face, ears, and the back of your neck. Avoid straw hats if possible because they will have holes, which will let sunshine through. A tightly woven fabric like canvas is a good choice for a hat.

Following these rules is important. Make sure you also check your skin periodically for any changes with moles, growths, and discolorations. For more information about skin cancer, and prevention, visit