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Skin care after skin cancer

When you've had skin cancer, you are more at risk of developing another. So it’s important to keep an eye on our skin and protect it when out in the sun. 

Checking your skin

Be aware of what your skin normally looks like. Go to see your doctor if you notice any skin changes or possible symptoms of skin cancer. Also see your doctor if there are any changes in the site where you had your original skin cancer.

Remember, most non melanoma skin cancers are treated successfully. It’s rare for early stage skin cancers to come back. So keep an eye on things, but don’t worry too much.

What can you do to protect your skin?

To help protect your skin you can:

  • wear close weave cotton clothing in the sun
  • wear long sleeves and trousers
  • wear a hat with a wide brim that shades your face and neck
  • wear sunglasses that give 100% UV protection
  • use a high factor sunscreen when you're in the sun - even on a cloudy day
  • spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest – between 11 am and 3 pm in the UK
  • never use a sunbed

Sunscreen

If you've had skin cancer, you should avoid spending too long in the sun. Use a product with at least an SPF of 15 and apply generously. Your skin cancer specialist might suggest a high factor sunscreen such as 50 on any exposed skin. The higher SPF gives you extra protection, but no sunscreen can provide 100% protection.

For continued protection you need to re apply sunscreen regularly while in the sun. Using sunscreen does not mean you can safely sunbathe.

Choosing sunscreen

Choose a sunscreen with good protection against UVA and UVB. This is because both UVA and UVB rays cause skin cancer. The SPF shows how much protection the sunscreen gives against UVB radiation – as long as you put enough on.

The higher the SPF number, the more protection it provides by filtering out UVB rays:

  • SPF 15 filters out 93%
  • SPF 30 filters out 96%
  • SPF 60 filters out 98%

In the UK, the level of UVA protection is shown in 1 of 2 ways:

You should see a star rating of up to 5 stars on UK sunscreens. Use a product with at least 4 stars. 

A symbol with the letters UVA inside a circle is a European marking. It means that it meets the European Standard.

Vitamin D

We all need vitamin D to help build and maintain strong bones, teeth and muscles. A lack of vitamin D (vitamin D deficiency) could cause problems in the long term. For example, it could cause a bone condition called osteoporosis in adults.

Sunlight is the main source of vitamin D. Avoiding direct sunlight by covering up and using sunscreen can help reduce the risk of skin cancer. But it can also reduce the amount of vitamin D in your body.

You can also get vitamin D from some foods including:

  • oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon
  • eggs
  • red meat
  • fortified margarine and cereals

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) produced a report on vitamin D and health. They recommend that during the winter months (between October and March), people in the UK consider taking a daily 10 microgram supplement of vitamin D.

Certain groups of people are more at risk of vitamin D deficiency. For example, people who spend long periods of time indoors or cover up when outdoors. SACN advise that these people consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement throughout the year.

Talk to your skin specialist or GP about vitamin D. Ask them whether you should be taking a supplement.

Last reviewed: 
22 Oct 2019
  • Risk of subsequent cutaneous malignancy in patients with prior keratinocyte carcinoma: A systematic review and meta-analysis
    Sophie C.Flohil and others
    European Journal of Cancer, 2013. Volume 49, Issue 10, Pages 2365 - 2375

  • Sunlight exposure: risks and benefits
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2016

  • Sunscreen Fact Sheet
    British Association of Dermatologists, 2013.

  • Sunscreening Agents A Review
    M S Latha and others
    The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 2013. Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 16 – 26

  • SACN vitamin D and health report. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommendations on vitamin D.
    Public Health England (PHE), July 2016

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

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