7 Ways to Protect Your Family From Skin Cancer

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer during the course of their lifetime. Prevent and detect it with these essential tips

use sunscreen

Use sunscreen daily.
Many women put away their sunscreen after Labor Day, but they should really use it year-round—paired with a hat and sun-protective clothing. Cancer-causing UVA and UVB rays are always present. Our top product picks: For lips, Ocean Potion Moisturizing Lip Potion, SPF 45 ($2; drugstore.com); for face, Safe Harbor face & neck cream, SPF 40 ($10; walmart.com); for body, L'Oréal Advanced Suncare Invisible Protect Clear Finish spray, SPF 50 ($9; drugstore.com).

Don't assume dark skin protects you.
If you're a blonde with blue eyes, you know how important it is to use sunscreen. But that doesn't mean people with darker skin can skip the slathering. Pale skin naturally has only a little more than SPF 3, while brown skin averages the equivalent of SPF 13. And that's not enough coverage for anyone. Not only does darker coloring not protect you from skin cancer, but when someone with brown skin gets melanoma, it's typically detected later because it has gone unnoticed, making mortality rates higher. And don't confuse ethnicity with skin type. If you're of African descent but have lighter skin, for example, you could have the same level of risk as, say, a person of Scottish heritage. No matter your ancestry or skin tone, use sunscreen and check your skin regularly.

Avoid tanning beds—forever.
Just one indoor tanning session raises the risk of melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) by 20 percent, basal cell carcinoma (the most common form) by 29 percent and squamous cell carcinoma (the second most common) by a whopping 67 percent.

Check yourself monthly.
The Skin Cancer Foundation advises using both a handheld and a full-length mirror to do a head-to-toe exam once a month in a well-lit room. Ask a partner to check your rear view, and check your kids regularly, too. Look for any spot out of the ordinary—what dermatologists call "the ugly duckling factor." 

Learn your ABCDEs.
These abnormalities are common with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer (though note that not every melanoma has all of these characteristics). See something funky? Have it checked out by your dermatologist right away.
• Asymmetry: If you were to draw a line right through the middle of your mole, one side wouldn't be equal to the other.
• Border: The edges of the spot look uneven, as if they're scalloped or ragged. Pigment might even fade into the skin nearby.
• Color: There are multiple hues, such as dark brown on one side and gray on the other, rather than all one uniform shade.
• Diameter: The mole is larger than the size of a pencil eraser. Many melanomas are bigger than 6 millimeters.
• Evolving: Since you last checked (say, about a month ago), the mole has grown or taken on a different color or shape.

Don't depend on apps.
Beware of smartphone apps that claim to detect skin cancer by analyzing photos of spots you upload; a study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found even the best-performing ones missed 30 percent of potentially deadly melanomas.

Get screened yearly.
Schedule a full-body skin-cancer screening at least once each year, or as often as recommended, depending on your risk. Some doctors take photos of atypical moles to track them—a smart practice.

Sources: Mona Gohara, MD, a dermatologist in New Haven, Conn.; and Ellen Marmur, MD, founder of Marmur Medical in New York City and associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital