How can I prevent skin cancer?

profile picture of Amber Akhter
General Practitioner and Lead Physician, Bupa Health Clinics
08 May 2024
Next review due May 2027

Skin cancer happens when the skin’s cells become abnormal and grow out of control. Skin cancer is common. For example, melanoma is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK. Rates of skin cancer are increasing over time. Here, I’ll discuss the causes and types of skin cancer, and suggest ways you can prevent it.

group of people smiling and walking outdoors

What causes skin cancer?

There are three main types of skin cancer – melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma) starts in the top layers of the skin.

Sun exposure is the main cause of skin cancer. The sun contains ultraviolet (UV) light which can damage your skin by changing the DNA of the skin cells.

Damage is most likely to happen if your skin is exposed to the sun for a long period of time, or for short bursts of intense sunlight. If you get sunburn, that’s a sign that you’ve been in the sun too long without the correct protection.

Here are some other risk factors for skin cancer.

  • Age – The older you are, the more at risk you are for skin cancer. This mainly applies to non-melanoma skin cancer. Although, young people can get it too.
  • History of sunburn – If you’ve been sunburnt many times in the past, this can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. You may be at greater risk if you have lived in a sunny climate as a child, or if you work outside, such as on a farm or construction site. Having fair skin can also increase your risk of sunburn.
  • Family history of skin cancer – some types of skin cancer can run in families, such as squamous cell carcinoma. You're also more likely to get skin cancer if you had it before.
  • Skin conditions – People receiving UV light treatment for certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema, may be at a higher risk of getting skin cancer.

Everyone is at some risk of skin cancer, so it’s important to limit your sun exposure and protect your skin. If you’re worried about your risk or spot potential symptoms of skin cancer, speak to your GP. They’ll examine you and discuss ways you can reduce your risk.

Do sunbeds increase my risk of getting skin cancer?

Sunbeds produce high intensity artificial UV light, and this can damage your skin. Sunbed use is a major risk factor for melanoma, but evidence suggests it can also cause other types of skin cancers.

Research has consistently found a higher rate of skin cancer in people who use sunbeds. Your risk also increases the more often you use them.

How can I prevent skin cancer?

The good news is that 4 out of 5 cases of skin cancer would have been preventable. This means that there are things we can do, or avoid, to reduce our risk of developing skin cancer.

Here are six ways you can prevent skin cancer.

1. Reduce your sun exposure

It’s important that your skin isn’t exposed to the sun for long periods of time. Try to seek shade where you can, and cover up with clothing. You could switch to long sleeves after some time in the sun, or wear a hat to protect your head and face.

2. Use suncream

Its important to always wear suncream when you spend time in the sun, even if it’s a cloudy day. Make sure you’re using a suncream with an SPF of 30 or higher if you are outdoors. The higher the SPF, the more protected your skin will be.

3. Don’t use sunbeds

Sunbeds put you at a much greater risk of getting skin cancer. If you’re tempted to use sunbeds to get a tan, you could opt for an instant or gradual tanning product instead.

4. Check your skin for signs of skin cancer

It’s important to regularly check your skin, so it’s easier to notice any changes. Signs of skin cancer can include a sore that doesn’t heal, or skin that’s red, itchy or bleeding for a long time. Your moles can also change in shape, size or colour.

5. See a dermatologist once a year

You can visit a dermatologist for a full skin examination. They can check for any changes to your skin or any potential signs of skin cancer.

6. Take supplements

There are supplements you can take to reduce your risk of skin cancer. For example, nicotinamide (Vitamin B3) helps with DNA repair, and can help prevent damage to the DNA in the skin cells. But further research is needed to confirm how effective this is. Always seek advice from your local pharmacist when considering taking supplements.

Preventing skin cancer doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the sun! As long as you stay safe and protect your skin. If you’re concerned about your risk of skin cancer, visit your GP for advice.

If you’re showing symptoms of cancer, our direct access service aims to help you see someone as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, and depending on your symptoms, you may not need a GP referral to see a consultant. Learn more today.

profile picture of Amber Akhter
Dr Amber Akhter
General Practitioner and Lead Physician, Bupa Health Clinics



Annie Fry, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

    • Skin cancer 101. Skin Cancer Foundation., updated April 2024
    • Overview of skin cancer. BMJ Best Practice., reviewed March 2024
    • Melanoma skin cancer statistics. Cancer Research UK., accessed April 2024
    • Risks and causes of skin cancer. Cancer Research UK., reviewed January 2023
    • Dessinioti C & Stratigos AJ. An Epidemiological Update on Indoor Tanning and the Risk of Skin Cancers. Curr Oncol. 2022 Nov; 29(11): 8886–8903. doi: 10.3390/curroncol29110699
    • Jones OT, Ranmuthu CKI & Hall PN, et al. Recognising Skin Cancer in Primary Care. Adv Ther. 2020; 37(1): 603–616. doi: 10.1007/s12325-019-01130-1
    • Skin Cancer Prevention. Skin Cancer Foundation., accessed April 2024
    • Screening for skin cancer. Cancer Research UK., reviewed January 2023
    • Schneider JG, Majidian M & Moy RL. Patient Perception of Skin Cancer Reduction by Nicotinamide Correlates With Use. Cureus. 2023 Aug; 15(8): e44403. doi: 10.7759/cureus.44403

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