- A lighter natural skin color.
- Family history of skin cancer.
- A personal history of skin cancer.
- Exposure to the sun through work and play.
- A history of sunburns early in life.
- A history of indoor tanning.
- Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun.
- Blue or green eyes.
- Blond or red hair.
- Certain types and a large number of moles.
For more information, visit the National Cancer Institute's Skin Cancer Risk Factors.
Tanning and Burning
Ultraviolet (UV) rays come from the sun or from indoor tanningindoor tanning (using a tanning bed, booth, or sunlamp to get tan). When UV rays reach the skin's inner layer, the skin makes more melanin. Melanin is the pigment that colors the skin. It moves toward the outer layers of the skin and becomes visible as a tan.
A tan does not indicate good health. A tan is a response to injury, because skin cells signal that they have been hurt by UV rays by producing more pigment.
People burn or tan depending on their skin type, the time of year, and how long they are exposed to UV rays. The six types of skin, based on how likely it is to tan or burn, are—
- I: Always burns, never tans, sensitive to UV exposure.
- II: Burns easily, tans minimally.
- III: Burns moderately, tans gradually to light brown.
- IV: Burns minimally, always tans well to moderately brown.
- V: Rarely burns, tans profusely to dark.
- VI: Never burns, deeply pigmented, least sensitive.
Although everyone's skin can be damaged by UV exposure, people with skin types I and II are at the highest risk.
For more information about sunburn, visit Traveler's Health: Sunburn.
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidelines for school programs to prevent skin cancer. MMWR 2002;51(No. RR-4):1–16.
2National Cancer Institute. What You Need to Know About Skin Cancer. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
3National Cancer Institute. Skin Cancer Prevention (PDQ®). Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
4El Ghissassi F, Baan R, Straif K, Grosse Y, Secretan B, Bouvard V, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Guha N, Freeman C, Galichet L, Cogliano V; WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group. A review of human carcinogens—part D: radiation. Lancet Oncology 2009;10(8):751–752.
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