Preventing Skin Cancer

Posted on by RADM Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H, Acting Surgeon General.

sunAs the nation’s doctor, I recently launched a Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer to address the rising rates of skin cancer in the U.S. While nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer each year in the U.S., with an annual cost of $8.1 billion, most cases are preventable. Although people with lighter skin are at higher risk, anyone can get skin cancer—and it can be disfiguring, even deadly. Sunburned and even tanned skin is damaged skin that can lead to skin cancer. That’s why this message is extremely important for individuals whose jobs require them to work outdoors.

I started my U.S. Public Service career at NIOSH, and later trained as a dermatologist establishing a NIOSH occupational skin disease research program. Being a guest author for this NIOSH Science Blog is a great opportunity to address the importance of sun safety for outdoor workers.

These workers often don’t have the option of staying out of the sun during the hottest time of the day, a primary prevention strategy for limiting exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) radiation. Exposure to UV radiation in sunlight is a major cause of skin cancer, and it is the most preventable cause. However, there are other effective steps that employers and workers can take to help protect workers from exposure to UV radiation and skin cancer.

Recommendations for Employers

Employers should take the following steps to protect workers from exposure to UV radiation:

  • When possible, avoid scheduling outdoor work when sunlight exposure is the greatest.
  • Provide shaded or indoor break areas.
  • Provide training to workers about UV radiation including:
    • Risks of exposure
    • Prevention of exposure
    • Signs and symptoms of overexposure.

Recommendations for Workers

Workers should follow these recommendations to protect themselves from UV damage:

  • Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15.
    • SPF refers to the sun protection factor or the length of time that a person 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 stay without burning. The SPF rating applies to skin reddening and protection against UVB exposure.
    • SPF does not refer to protection against UVA. A broad spectrum sunscreen provides protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
    • Sunscreen performance is affected by wind, humidity, perspiration, and proper application.
  • Follow the application directions on the sunscreen bottle.
  • Sunscreens should be liberally applied (a minimum of 1 ounce) at least 20 minutes before sun exposure.
    • Special attention should be given to covering the ears, lips, neck, tops of feet, and backs of hands.
  • Sunscreens should be reapplied at least every 2 hours and each time a person gets out of the water or perspires heavily.
    • Some sunscreens may also lose efficacy when applied with insect repellents, necessitating more frequent application when the two products are used together.
  • Old sunscreens should be thrown away because they lose their potency after 1-2 years.
  • Another effective way to prevent sunburn is by wearing protective clothing.
    • Dark clothing with a tight weave is more protective than light-colored, loosely woven clothing.
    • High-SPF clothing has been developed to provide more protection for those with photosensitive skin or a history of skin cancer.
  • Workers should also wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. Sunglasses with 100% UV protection and side panels to prevent excessive sun exposure to the eyes are recommended.

More information on protecting workers from UV radiation can be found on the NIOSH UV Radiation topic page and the NIOSH Fast Facts: Protecting Yourself for Sun Exposure (PDF). Help put an end to the rising rates of skin cancer in the U.S. Employers and workers have a role to play in preventing exposure to UV radiation. Remember, tanned skin is damaged skin.

Read the Call to Action (PDF) to learn about recommended strategies for individuals, communities, policymakers, and state and federal government to reduce skin cancer-related illness, deaths, and healthcare costs.

Join our social media campaign and help us spread the message about skin cancer prevention though our Thunderclap on August 14, 2014 at noon.

Rear Admiral (RADM) Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H.

Acting Surgeon General

Posted on by RADM Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H, Acting Surgeon General.

35 comments on “Preventing Skin Cancer”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    August 13, 2014

    Dear RearAdmiral Lushniak:

    Sir your urgent call to the public is one of great importance and I have had the misfortune of being the mother of my only child who suffered his last 5 yrs with metastatic melanoma Stage III. This disease is one of the most devastating diseases on the face of the earth. My son’s initial diagnosis started in the neck region which encompassed his entire cervical lymph nodes with melanoma. They were extracted and he then underwent chemotherapy his 1st yr. My son’s disease progressed and moved to other locations in the body, the brain, stomach, lungs. No one knows the horror which metastatic melanoma creates in the body of a human being. I am still grieving my son’s death along with my granddaughter and daughter-in-law. With every ounce of my being for me to write the 5 yrs inclusive is an absolute tragedy and no one on the face of the earth is exempt. Please take precaution because it can be preventable in the early stages.

    Hello, Rea rAdmiral Lushniak,
    The UV exposure problem is severe in tropical countries, for example, India. Our farmers have adjusted their working life to overcome it. They start the field operations by 07:00 AM, and go on till 11:30 AM. By that time, the lady of the house brings the lunch. Both of them have the lunch, chat for a while and the farmer goes for a siesta.(The lady returns home). Work is resumed by 03:00PM and goes on till sunset. This workstyle has several advantages.; (1) Direct exposure to the Noon sun’s UV is avoides; (2) Taking lunch with his dear, breaks the monotony; (3) ” Compulsory rest” will rejunevate him and helps him to resume work; (4) Hot homely food; (5) “Beat the heat”.
    Dark skin in the tropics has its own natural advantage against exposure.!
    Regarding the suggested clothing: Normally, we recommend light colours for farmers and the like. This is to miniize the effect of Blackbody radiation. But, you have recommended dark colours. Will you please, therefore, clarfy the issue?

    K.N.Krishna Prasad
    Chartered engineer; HSE consultant & trainer

    Excellent, excellent tips. I really like this article and definitely proves to be useful for preventing skin cancer. Thanks for the great info !

    Many Canadian companies are stressing the use of sunscreen to their employees who do outdoor events / work.

    Really nice article about preventing skin cancer. Thanks for your complementing. All the recommendations are very useful. Dermatologist in Chennai.

    Thanks for all the great information about sun protection. We can all do more at work and home to prevent damage.

    I have been so concerned about how my skin is changing as I got older I decided that I needed to be proactive and do something about it. My sister was diagnosed with skin cancer, so I got to action and developed a line of clothing which is UPF50+ protection but still looks fashionable. You will always need to use sunscreen and sunnies and hat etc, but every little bit helps right??

    It is in a business’ self interest to take care of their employees. Their employees are their greatest asset. Protecting employees from the hazard of skin cancer should go without saying.

    Who can resist while working outside a wide brim hat and some fancy sunglasses for 100% UV protection?

    I found this article to be very informative about skin cancer. I’ll agree that for anyone working outside, they need to know the risks of being exposed to sunlight. My father worked outside for most of his life. I know that they didn’t have much of sunscreen back then, so unfortunately, he developed skin cancer. He is doing well however, he just still needs to go into surgery.

    This is very helpful. I recently started working a new job that will require some time outdoors during the summer. I appreciate your advice for employees. However, I also appreciate your advise for employers to provide indoor break areas and avoid scheduling during the peak sunlight hours.

    This was very helpful in understanding about the skin cancer. In the highly developed medical industry the skin based cancers are easily curable.

    Training of employees is quite a paramount initiative that employers should take. Ultimate production in any organization is pegged on employees Health. Employees should also contribute to this by heeding to the trainings they receive on how to take care of themselves.

    I’ve known a lot of people with skin cancer in my life. It is a pretty preventable thing to get. To make sure I don’t get skin cancer myself I will definitely use a few of your tips. Thanks for the great post.

    Yes. I read an news about skin cancer. People who like sunning could get skin cancer easily. Skin can produce natural response under UV irradiation, and produce POMC protein. Then this protein is cut into several small pieces, one of the pieces can induce the melanin, and other pieces can make the skin compound beta – endorphins. Endorphins can relieve pain through activating opioid receptors; its pathway is the same as the painkiller, morphine and heroin.
    So, it is a useful way to reduce the sun exposure.

    Dear Lushniak,
    Firstly it is very nice article, I work as chartered engineer in India. I do conduct safety audits for companies, it is not just in usa but we here in india also facing similar problem. Another thing i would like to add is, most of companies lack awareness about it, creating awareness might help the cause.

    Thank you for your recommendations, it is very useful. Yesterday I also read an article „Skin cancer signs and symptoms treatment“. This article about signs of skin cancer, how to recognize skin cancer and treatment.

    Great article. Thank you for sharing such an informative post about skin cancer. I think workers who work in some shop where there is a risk of having problem in their eyes must wear sun glasses.

    This is one of the most informative information I’ve read. It really helps a lot. Thanks for sharing this and teaching some of your Idea’s

    To Whom It May Concern:

    Melanoma, as one of the deadliest skin cancers is being downplayed by the WTC Victims Compensation Fund even though there is a causal effect of this disease!

    Thank you for your comment. The World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program, administered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, added many cancers, including melanomas of the skin, to the List of WTC-Related Health Conditions in October 2012. Since then we have certified over 390 melanomas of the skin as being related to 9/11 exposures.

    The WTC Health Program is separate from the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), which is administered by the Department of Justice. Information about the VCF can be found online at The VCF can be reached at 1-855-885-1555.

    Laurie I. Breyer, JD, MA, is the Acting Deputy Director of the World Trade Center Health Program.

    As a mom to four kids (2 of them redheads) I’ve always been aware of the sun and it’s dangers. But I must admit to loving the beach and being out in the sun as much as possible.

    When my husband was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma this summer (on his face) it really hit home. He’s young and always been healthy. It’s definitely made our entire family more aware about taking precautions.

    There are several great natural sunscreens out there, and I’m loving hats and covering up more.

    Thanks for the article,

    Lori Geurin

    Thanks a lot for sharing such an informative article! It will definitely help people in preventing skin cancer. I will also follow the given tips and suggestion.

    Hi I wanted to say thank you for creating this blog. I have a school project on skin cancer and this is the best blog i found. I think that your post about sunscreen is perfect so thank you

    Hi thank you for this post,
    Skin Cancer is a very important cause to me. the suns uv lights and tanning booths are very dangerous to a persons health and sunscreen is very important in preventing skin cancer

    Hello there I needed to state thank you for making this blog. I have a school extend on skin tumor and this is the best blog i found. I ponder sunscreen is flawless so bless your heart.

    I wonder if this has any effect on how much vitamin D you create. Just read your article. Good one. I liked it. Keep going. you are a best writer your site is very useful and informative thanks for Sharing.

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