Skin cancer is an increasing problem in Europe, America and Australasia, although largely preventable by avoiding excessive ultraviolet (UV) exposure. This paper presents the findings of a systematic review of qualitative research about the prevention of skin cancer attributable to UV exposure. The aim is to understand elements that may contribute to the successful or unsuccessful conveyance of skin cancer prevention messages and their uptake by the public. A systematic review was undertaken using evidence identified through searching electronic bibliographic databases and Web sites and reference list checks. Predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria were used. Sixteen study reports (relating to 15 separate studies) were included from the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Each included study was quality appraised, and the findings were extracted into an evidence table. A coding scheme, framed by the Health Belief Model, was developed by the reviewers and informed analysis and synthesis. This showed that most people perceived their susceptibility to skin cancer, and its severity, as low. While benefits of adopting changed behaviour were acknowledged, there were substantial barriers to this, including positive perceptions of a tan as healthy and attractive and the hassle of covering up or using sunscreen. Peers, parents and media may offer 'cues to action' that encourage adoption of preventative behaviour and finally self-efficacy or the perceived ability to make such changes. Effective health education messages will need to address the barriers to adopting protective behaviours identified through this review.