20 Habits That Increase Your Risk of Skin Cancer

Steer clear of tanning beds, cigarettes, and... manicures?

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 20 percent of all Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they hit 70. And whether that takes form as a non-melanoma (bad) or a melanoma (very bad) type of the disease, one thing's for certain: you definitely don't want it. What's more (and worse), you may be inadvertently doing things to increase your risk.

Sitting out in the sun unprotected, for starters, is instantly going to up your odds of being diagnosed with a case of skin cancer, but there are also some less obvious reasons that could lead you down a dangerous path. Whether you've read today's news about the dark side to gel manicures or prefer high-shine lip glosses to opaque ones, these 20 habits can set you up for a less than favorable trip to the dermatologist, too. So be sure to avoid them. And for more ways to keep yourself safe, check out these 20 Skin Cancer Symptoms Everyone Needs to Know.

You Get Gel Manicures

manicure grooming Skin Cancer Risks

You might not worry too much about the UV rays being emitted from the LED lamps at your nail salon, but even using them for short periods of time could result in a life-threatening skin cancer diagnosis. A 20-year-old woman in Illinois recently opened up about the melanoma that her doctor said was most likely due to getting regular gel manicures, and experts are trying to spread the word: "Whether indoor tanning, UV lamp, outdoor tanning, all of those can cause aging of the skin and potential for skin cancers," dermatologist Carolyn Jacob, MD, told Fox 32. And for more ways to stay healthy this summer, learn the 20 Ways the Sun Harms Your Health.

You Smoke

Businessman Smoking Cigarette Anti-Aging Skin Cancer Risks

Smokers probably only assume they're putting themselves at risk for lung cancer, but skin cancer is a dire possibility, too. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, inhaling all those toxins can increase your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma on your lips by 52 percent. And since it affects 700,000 people in the U.S. every year, it's incredibly common.

You Still Use a Tanning Bed

girl in tanning bed Skin Cancer Risks

With all the negative press and vast amount of research surrounding the dangers of tanning beds, it's crazy they're still around. But according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, people continue to use them at alarming rates—something that's definitely not good, considering just one session increases your risk of melanoma by 20 percent, basal cell carcinoma by 29 percent, and squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent. And for more habits to kick, learn the 20 Surprising Everyday Habits That Increase Your Cancer Risk.

You're Not Wearing Sunglasses

bad puns

Sunglasses aren't just for looks or keeping the sun out of your eyes. They can also help protect your delicate eye area—including super-thin-skinned eyelids—from skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation says to wear them year-round anytime you're enjoying the sunshine, and to choose an option that blocks 99 to 100 percent of those harmful rays. And, fellas, if you need more tips blocking your face from the sun, don't miss the 10 Summer Hat Options That Are Way Classier Than A Baseball Cap.

You're Not Checking Your Skin Regularly

melanoma skin cancer Skin Cancer Risks

One of the worst things you can get in the habit of when it comes to your skin is not inspecting it on the regular. Going to the doctor once a year for a screening only takes a tiny bit of your time, but you should be looking over your skin year-round at home, too. The American Cancer Society says to examine yourself in a well-lit room with a full-length mirror where you can use the "ABCDE" rule to make sure the moles and spots on your body are safe—even the hard-to-see ones you might have to recruit a friend for. And for more on what, exactly, to look out for, check out these 20 Skin Symptoms That Indicate More Serious Health Issues.

You're Wearing Too Little SPF

Sunscreen, 40s Skin Cancer Risks

If you think that SPF 35+ is going to cut it at the beach—or anywhere, for that matter—you're sadly mistaken. In a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers found SPF 100+ is more protective against sunburns than SPF 50+, something there were mixed opinions on in the past. So rock the highest you can, and reapply it often: just because it's higher strength doesn't mean its staying power is any longer.

You're Forgetting to Apply Sunscreen to Easy-to-Miss Areas

 You're Forgetting to Apply Sunscreen to Easy-to-Miss AreasSkin Cancer Risks

It's easy to remember to apply sunscreen to areas that always see the sun, like your face, arms, and legs. But it's what you're not applying sunscreen to that could get you in trouble. According to research from the Cleveland Clinic, it's super important to cover up easy-to-miss areas like your hands, feet, ears, upper chest, neck, and genitals as well—because, yes, the sun can peek through your swimsuit and harm your skin, even if it's not necessarily getting burned. And if you need help with this process, master the 15 Easy Hacks to Apply Your Sunscreen More Easily.

You're Wearing Minimal Clothing

short shorts, hot pants, daisy dukes Skin Cancer Risks

Once the mercury climbs, the clothes start coming off. It seems obvious, but if you're spending more time outside in less clothing, you have to amp up the amount of sunscreen you use every day—not just when you're swimming or going on a run. Even on those days when you're just out-and-about running errands, you should at least be wearing SPF 30 or higher, recommends the American Academy of Dermatology.

You Aren't Loading Your Plate with Veggies

You Aren't Loading Your Plate with Veggies Skin Cancer Risks

Eating plenty of veggies isn't just a must for your health—it can also keep you protected against cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale, are broken down into indoles and isothiocyanates—two things that have shown to prevent cancer from developing—when you eat them. Plus, veggies also keep your immune system healthy, which comes in handy when your body is fighting off the bad guys.

You're Not Protecting Your Skin from Pollution

wrinkles worse skin Skin Cancer Risks

The sun isn't the only thing that can harm your complexion. Pollution is just as bad for you as it is for the environment—and not just for making wrinkles and dark spots pop up early: "Pollution can cause uneven skin tone, accelerated aging, and even skin cancer," said Doris Day, MD. To make sure it doesn't affect you, wash off your skin and wear sunscreen every day. Put it on right away in the morning. And be sure to spring for one that contains antioxidants.

You're Wearing Shiny Lipsticks

woman touching lips Skin Cancer Risks

Anyone who loves showing off their collection of lipstick might want to rethink the high-shine, glossy ones. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, they basically do the same thing as putting baby oil on your body does, becoming a magnet for UV rays that can burn and damage your skin. Instead, an opaque lipstick with SPF 15+ is the way to go.

You Don't Wear Sunscreen While Driving

young woman driving Moms Should Never Say Skin Cancer Risks

If you ever feel the heat of the sun coming down on you with full-force while you're driving, that's because your car windows don't offer protection from the sun. One study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that 53 percent of skin cancer is found on people's left sides—or, commonly, the side that faces the window when you're driving. "The increase in left-sided skin cancers may be from the UV exposure we get when driving a car," said study co-author Susan T. Butler, MD.

You Always Sit by Sunny Windows

Man looking out window pondering legacy Skin Cancer Risks

Speaking of windows, they really aren't doing you any good whether you're in the car or not. The Skin Cancer Foundation says sitting in front of a sunny window—whether it's all day at work or once you get home while eating dinner—doesn't just lead to wrinkles, but could also cause skin cancer down the line.

You Don't Wear Sunscreen on Flights

woman looking out window private plane Skin Cancer Risks

People tend to feel pretty safe from the sun in planes, despite traveling six miles closer to it. But, according to one expert, that can really do some damage. "The fact is, flying at 30,000 feet [for 60 minutes] can be as dangerous as 20 minutes in a tanning bed," said dermatologist Doris Day. That means you better be wearing sunscreen even during your flights—or just, you know, pulling down the shade.

You Rely on the SPF in Your Makeup for Protection

woman putting on makeup in mirror

It's always nice when your face makeup happens to have the added bonus of SPF, but don't solely depend on that to protect your skin. Many products only have around SPF 15, and since the American Academy of Dermatology recommends at least 30 SPF on a daily basis, you might have to apply some before getting ready for the day.

You're Not Reapplying Sunscreen Often Enough

Aerosol sunscreen application Skin Cancer Risks

When you put on sunscreen, it might seem like a one-and-done type of deal—especially if it's a higher SPF. The reality, though, is that unless you're spending most of your day indoors, you should be reapplying at least every two hours, says the Skin Cancer Foundation. And after you get out of the water, apply it again right after you towel off.

You Don't Wear SPF-Protective Clothing

You Don't Wear SPF-Protective Clothing Skin Cancer Risks

Anytime you're planning on spending the majority of the day outside, dress the part—even if that means covering up more than you'd like to in the heat. "This year at the pool, I'm wearing a long-sleeve sun shirt. Everyone's making them, from Tory Burch to Diane Von Furstenberg. They're really attractive and not the ugly body suits you think of," said news anchor Norah O'Donnell, who battled melanoma in the past. And don't forget broad-rimmed hats and sunglasses, either.

You're Not Using Enough Sunscreen

best skin Skin Cancer Risks

A quick slathering on of the sunscreen will make you feel like you did your part to protect your skin, but the amount you use is key. The Skin Cancer Foundation says most people only use a quarter of what they should: the accurate amount per application is at least 1 oz., or the amount that could fit in a shot glass. It might seem excessive—and you might go through more bottles of sunscreen because of the rule—but it's worth it.

You're Not Careful with Your Spray Tan

You're Not Careful with Your Spray Tan Skin Cancer Risks

Getting a spray tan is a much better option than getting a real tan, but there is one thing you should be weary of. After your appointment, just be extra cautious: according to Cynthia Bailey, MD, you have a higher risk of free radical damage from those UV rays for up to 24 hours after bronzing yourself. After a day, you should be fine to just apply sunscreen as usual.

You Don't Apply Sunscreen Before Being in the Sun

sunscreen application inside Skin Cancer Risks

When most people apply sunscreen, it's when they're already sitting in the sun at the beach. The only problem? It takes a while for its protecting powers to kick in. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you should put it on at least 15 minutes before heading outdoors. That way it has time to be absorbed into your skin to do its duties. And for more advice to stay in tip-top shape this summer, learn the 20 Surprising Things That Can Keep You Cool All Summer.

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Tehrene Firman
Tehrene Firman is a freelance health and wellness writer. Read more
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