- Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection
- What is skin cancer?
- What is ultraviolet (UV) radiation?
- Are some people more likely to get sun damage?
- How do I protect myself from UV rays?
- What about tanning pills and other tanning products?
- Skin exams
- What should I look for?
- What if I find something suspicious?
- Additional resources
Are some people more likely to get sun damage?
Everyone’s skin and eyes can be affected by the sun and other forms of UV rays. People with light skin are much more likely to have sun damage, but darker-skinned people, including people of any ethnicity, can be affected, too.
The skin tans when it absorbs UV rays. The tan is caused by an increase in the activity and number of melanocytes, the cells that make the pigment melanin (mel-uh-nin). Melanin helps to block out damaging UV rays up to a point, which is why people with naturally darker skin are less likely to get sunburned, while people with lighter skin are more likely to burn. Sunburns can increase your risk of skin cancer, including melanoma. But UV exposure can raise skin cancer risk even without causing sunburn.
Aside from skin tone, other factors can also affect your risk of damage from UV light. You need to be especially careful in the sun if you:
- Had skin cancer before
- Have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
- Have many moles, irregular moles, or large moles
- Have freckles and burn before tanning
- Have fair skin, blue or green eyes, or blond, red, or light brown hair
- Live or vacation at high altitudes (the strength of UV rays increases the higher up you are)
- Live or vacation in tropical or subtropical climates
- Work indoors all week and then get intense sun exposure on weekends
- Spend a lot of time outdoors
- Have certain autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, or “lupus”)
- Have a medical condition that weakens your immune system
- Have had an organ transplant
- Take medicines that lower or suppress your immune system
- Take medicines that make your skin more sensitive to sunlight
Ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist if you are taking any medicines that could increase your sensitivity to sunlight.
Last Medical Review: 12/11/2013
Last Revised: 02/20/2014