Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School



Unprotected exposure to sunlight increases your risk of developing basal cell cancer. You can help to reduce this risk in several ways:

  • Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher before you go outdoors.

  • Limit your time outdoors when the sun is at its peak (in most parts of the United States, from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

  • Wear sunglasses with ultraviolet light protection.

  • Wear long pants, a shirt with long sleeves and a hat with a wide brim.

  • Be aware that some drugs may increase your skin's risk of damage from the sun. These include certain antibiotics, and drugs used to treat psychiatric illness, high blood pressure, heart failure, acne and allergies. If you take prescription medications, ask your doctor if you need to take extra precautions to limit sun exposure.

  • Be aware that some skin care products can make your skin more vulnerable to damage from sunlight. These include products containing alpha-hydroxy acids.

If a basal cell cancer develops on your skin, early detection may limit damage. Examine your skin thoroughly every one to two months. Use a mirror to check your skin on less visible areas, such as your back, shoulders, upper arms, buttocks and the soles of your feet. Have a yearly skin exam by your physician.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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