New York State Department of Health Reminds New Yorkers to Protect Themselves From Harmful Ultraviolet Radiation During Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Too Much Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation is the Main Cause of Skin Cancer

Harmful Exposure from the Sun, Tanning Beds, Sunlamps, and Tanning Booths Can Cause Skin Cancer

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 13, 2024) – The New York State Department of Health is recognizing May as Skin Cancer Awareness Month with a reminder to the public to take steps to protect themselves from excessive ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) while enjoying the sun. Skin cancer most often develops on skin exposed to UV rays but can occur anywhere on the body.

"While we certainly encourage New Yorkers to get outside, have some fun, and enjoy the warmer weather and sunshine, it's important for everyone to take steps to protect their skin from the harmful effects of the sun," State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "I encourage everyone to use sunscreen when you're outside, even on cloudy days or when spending time in the shade, and to wear protective clothing when you're outside for extended periods of time."

Of the three types of skin cancer–basal, squamous, and melanoma—melanoma is the deadliest because it tends to spread quickly to other organs and causes most skin cancer deaths, even though it accounts for the least amount of cancer cases.

Most cases of melanoma—an estimated 90 percent—are caused by exposure to UV rays, which can come from natural sunlight as well as from indoor tanning devices such as tanning beds, tanning booths, and sunlamps. It's important to remember that tanned skin is damaged skin, and each sunburn and tan can add up and may result in skin cancer.

More than 4,200 New Yorkers are diagnosed with melanoma every year and melanoma claims nearly 400 lives annually.

In observance of UV Awareness Month, the State Department of Health urges New Yorkers to follow these recommendations to protect their skin from UV rays:

  • Wear a wide brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants whenever possible when outdoors.
  • Wear sunglasses that block UV rays, which can also reduce the risk of cataracts.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. SPF 15 blocks out 93 percent of UV rays, while SPF 30 blocks out 97 percent of UV rays.
  • Apply sunscreen to dry skin at least 15 minutes before going outdoors and again after swimming or perspiring.
  • Avoid the direct midday sun, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are strongest.
  • Avoid indoor tanning as these devices expose users to high levels of UV rays that can cause skin cancer, cataracts, and cancer of the eye. Adults that choose to use these devices should follow the recommendations outlined in the Tanning Hazards Information Sheet.

Anyone can get skin cancer, but some people are at greater risk, including those with lighter natural skin color, blonde or red hair, certain types and a large number of moles, or a family or personal history of skin cancer. Because melanoma occurs less frequently among non-white racial-ethnic groups, when it does occur, it's often diagnosed at a later stage, resulting in a worse prognosis.

Exposure to UV rays during childhood and adolescence plays a role in the future development of skin cancer, including deadly melanoma. Babies under 6 months of age should be kept out of direct sunlight and their skin should be covered with protective clothing and hats.

As children tend to spend more time outdoors, adults should ensure children are protected from excess sun exposure with protective clothing, sunscreen applied to exposed skin before they go outside, and limiting time in the sun, especially during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To further protect children from harmful exposure to UV rays, New York State Public Health Law prohibits those under the age of 18 from using tanning devices (e.g., tanning beds) and requires photo proof of age for use of such devices.

Information about local efforts that are underway to increase the adoption of sun safety policies and practices in community settings can be found here.

The New York State Cancer Consortium is a statewide network made up of more than 200 members from the public and private sectors whose missions are aligned with reducing cancer incidence and mortality. Consortium Action Teams come together to address some of New York's highest burden of preventable cancers, including a Skin Cancer Action Team.

For more information about UV safety, view and download the Department's Take a Stand Against the Tan flyer, which is also available in Spanish.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has information on sun safety, which you can find here.