Preventing Basal & Squamous Cell Skin Cancers

Though your chances of developing basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer, as well as the precancerous condition actinic keratosis, are higher if you have fair skin and light-colored eyes, you can develop these conditions even if you have dark skin. It’s important for everyone to practice sun protection.

To avoid basal and squamous cell carcinoma, NYU Langone doctors recommend limiting your exposure to the sun and other sources of harmful ultraviolet rays, such as tanning beds. Dermatologists recommend avoiding the sun between the hours of 10:00AM and 4:00PM, when its rays are strongest. Other preventive measures include seeking shade when possible, covering up with a long-sleeved shirt and pants, and wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays.

It’s also wise for adults and children to use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays, which can cause sunburn and skin damage. Look for a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 30. Apply the lotion generously about a half hour before going outside and every two hours thereafter. And, don’t forget to wear it on cloudy days.

Tanning beds also expose you to harmful ultraviolet light and significantly increase your risk of developing basal and squamous cell cancers, as well as melanoma. Melanoma is a potentially more serious type of skin cancer that develops from melanocytes, the cells that producer skin-darkening pigments.

Sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D, which helps your bones absorb calcium. NYU Langone doctors recommend talking to your primary care doctor about whether you should take a vitamin D supplement when limiting your sun exposure. Your doctor can determine if your vitamin D level is low with a blood test.


There are no official screening guidelines for basal and squamous cell cancers, but NYU Langone doctors encourage skin examinations as part of your annual checkup. If you notice any skin changes at any time, schedule an appointment with your doctor or a dermatologist as soon as possible.

Those who have had an organ transplant and are receiving immunosuppressive medications are at an increased risk of developing squamous cell cancer. Our dermatologists conduct regular skin examinations on people who have received care at the Transplant Institute.