How to reduce your risk of skin cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. In the UK alone there are around 147,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 16,000 cases of melanoma skin cancer every year. 

Skin cancer occurs when your skin cells start to grow abnormally. It often develops in areas exposed to ultraviolet rays from sunlight, tanning beds or carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals). This damages the DNA in your skin cells which eventually causes the cells to become cancerous. As the cancer cells grow and multiply, they can spread to other parts of your body.

What are the different types of skin cancer?

There are two main types of skin cancer:


This develops in the cells that give your skin its colour. Melanoma can develop anywhere on your skin, but often starts on the chest, back or legs as a new mole, or you may notice changes in an existing mole. While melanoma is a less common type of skin cancer, it’s more serious as it can quickly spread to other parts of your body if it isn’t caught early and treated. 

Non-melanoma skin cancer

Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to any cancer that occurs in your skin and is not melanoma. Several types of skin cancer fall within this category. The most common types are:

  • Basal cell carcinoma — this starts in the cells that are responsible for producing new skin cells when the old ones die
  • Squamous cell carcinoma — this develops in the thin, flat cells found in the outer layer of your skin 

Risk factors for skin cancer

The following factors may increase your risk of developing melanoma:

  • Age — skin cancer is more common in people who are aged 50 or over
  • Being Caucasian 
  • Being male
  • Certain rare inherited conditions — xeroderma pigmentosum and Gorlin syndrome increase the risk of skin cancer
  • Having a fair complexion, freckles or blue eyes

How can you reduce your risk of skin cancer?

Wear sunscreen 

You should protect your skin from the sun whenever you are outside, especially during the summer, as most melanomas are associated with exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Use a high-factor sunscreen, ideally SPF (sun protection factor) 30 or higher.  

Sunscreen can protect you against two types of UV rays — ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays. Be sure to apply a thick coat of sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outdoors to allow the cream to sink into your skin. Reapply after every two hours as sunscreen often breaks down with sun exposure or after sweating and swimming. Don’t forget to apply the sunscreen on your legs, tops of your feet, ears, face, scalp and neck. You can use a spray sunscreen for hard-to-reach areas such as your back or ask someone to help. 

Stay in the shade during midday hours

The sun's ultraviolet rays can reach you even on hazy and cloudy days, as they reflect off surfaces such as snow, sand, cement and water.

Avoid direct sunlight between 10am and 3pm when the sun’s ultraviolet rays are at their strongest. Shelter under a tree, umbrella or any other type of shade. 

As ultraviolet rays can reach your skin even when you are in the shade, you should still apply sunscreen.

Avoid directly exposing your skin

Clothing provides a barrier against the sun's rays. The more skin you cover, the better. Dark-coloured clothes that are tightly woven provide more protection from ultraviolet rays than light-coloured, loosely woven clothing.  

However, keep in mind that the SPF of a T-shirt is less than 15, so you shouldn't rely on clothing alone — still use sunscreen. You can also invest in clothing specifically designed to protect you from the sun's ultraviolet rays — clothing will be rated according to its UPF (ultraviolet protection factor), with a higher UPF providing more protection.

Wear a hat 

Hats with broad brims will shade your neck, face, ears and eyes. The hat should cover your whole head. For the best protection, make sure your hat is made from a fine, tightly woven, dark fabric. Some hats also offer additional protection as they are made from fabrics with a high UPF.

Avoid straw hats as they have holes that allow the sun's ultraviolet rays to reach your skin. Baseball hats provide limited protection, as they do not cover your ears. If you go outside wearing a baseball hat, apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more to the back of your neck and ears.  

Wear sunglasses                              

Protect your eyes and the sensitive skin around your eyes by wearing sunglasses on bright days all year round. Look for sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB rays — this will reduce your risk of developing cataracts earlier in life. Wraparound sunglasses are ideal since they also block the sun's rays coming from the sides. 

Avoid tanning beds

There is no safe tanning bed, sun lamp or tanning booth. Just one tanning session increases your chances of getting skin cancer. Exposure to the ultraviolet radiation emitted by tanning beds can also increase your risk of eye cancer and cataracts. 

Treatment for skin cancer

There is a range of treatment options for skin cancer, including:

  • Chemotherapy — drugs used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Excisional surgery to cut out the cancerous tissue 
  • Immunotherapy to boost your immune system so it can destroy the cancer cells
  • Photodynamic therapy — a laser light and light-sensitive drugs are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Radiotherapy — high-powered energy beams are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Mohs surgery — a microscopically controlled surgery to treat skin cancers with a high risk of recurring or skin cancer that has recurred 

You should see your doctor if you notice any symptoms of skin cancer, such as new moles or changes in existing moles, or the appearance of a lump or discoloured patch of skin. Early detection will mean you receive treatment before the cancer spreads to other parts of your body.

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.

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Author Information

Cahoot Care Marketing

Niched in the care sector, Cahoot Care Marketing offers a full range of marketing services for care businesses including: SEO, social media, websites and video marketing, specialising in copywriting and content marketing.

Over the last five years Cahoot Care Marketing has built an experienced team of writers and editors, with broad and deep expertise on a range of care topics. They provide a responsive, efficient and comprehensive service, ensuring content is on brand and in line with relevant medical guidelines.

Their writers and editors include care sector workers, healthcare copywriting specialists and NHS trainers, who thoroughly research all topics using reputable sources including the NHS, NICE, relevant Royal Colleges and medical associations.

The Spire Content Hub project was managed by:

Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager

Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.

Catriona Shaw, Lead Editor

Catriona has an English degree from the University of Southampton and more than 12 years’ experience copy editing across a range of complex topics. She works with a diverse team of writers to create clear and compelling copy to educate and inform.

Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing

Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.