Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. In fact, more people develop skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. The American Cancer Society attributes most cases of skin cancers to sun exposure. While it's impossible to avoid the sun-and you shouldn't-you can protect yourself from the sun's damaging rays.

The sun emits three types ultraviolet (UV) light. UVA and UVB both can both burn your skin and cause skin cancer. Manufacturers label skin protection products by their SPF (sun protection factor) or UPF (ultraviolet protection factor). SPF describes the time it takes for the skin to redden in the sun-the higher the SPF, the longer you can stay in the sun without burning. UPF indicates how much it prevents absorbing UV radiation.

How to Protect Yourself

Use sunscreen. Sunscreen deflects the sun's damaging rays and sun block serves as a protective coating so UV rays cannot reach your skin. Dermatologists recommend using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 (you don't get significantly better protection with a higher SPF). Apply sunscreen liberally when you go outside, even when it's cloudy. Reapply frequently, especially if you are sweating or getting wet. Look for wide-spectrum, or broad-spectrum, sunscreen, which filters both UVA and UVB rays.

Wear protective clothing. Melanomas on the neck and head are particularly dangerous, and these are the areas most vulnerable to the sun. Wear a wide brim hat with a tight weave for maximum head and neck protection.

Weather permitting, choose long sleeves or long pants to cover your skin. Darker colors reflect more of the sun's rays (this is true for hats as well); so do clothes with a tight weave. If you can see light through the cloth, it means the sun's rays can also pass through.

Today, you can purchase clothing that has a special coating built in to absorb UV rays and prevent them from reaching your skin. Clothes must offer a UPF of at least 15 to qualify as protective. You can also add UPF protection to clothes you already own with products that you add to the wash.

Wear sunglasses. Look for glasses that block both UVA and UVB rays and meet ANSI requirements (American National Standards Institute), which requires that sunglasses block at least 50 percent of UV rays.

Our daily sun exposure is cumulative over our lifetime. Enjoy your outdoor activities and take these simple precautions (use them together for best protection) to avoid sun damage and reduce your risk for skin cancer. If you have children, be religious about using sun protection for them as well.