Interesting Sunburns Aren’t Worth the Risk

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
July 16, 2015

Be smart. Cover up instead.

If you want to see photos of interesting sunburns, check out the Instagram and Twitter hashtags #sunburnart, #tantattoo, and #suntattoo. Let’s hope many of the burns are accidental.

A number of media outlets have wondered aloud if a fad has set in or decided to declare a trend. In a story in People, the author wrote, “People are branding themselves with artistic designs — by getting sunburned….. Individuals apply sunblock to selective areas of their bodies to create patterned tan lines, and then they share their stenciled and sunned skin on social media.”

People have used markers, fabric, or a temporary tattoo to create the pattern. Although some of the patterns in photos posted online seem clearly deliberate, others do not.

Dermatologists will tell you there’s no such a thing as a “healthy tan”; that glow is your body’s response to injury (yes, tanning does damage your skin). Just in case sunburn art tempts you in lieu of a tattoo, heed this warning from the Skin Cancer Foundation: “A sunburn is not only painful — it’s dangerous, and comes with consequences. Sunburns cause DNA damage to the skin, accelerate skin aging, and increase your lifetime skin cancer risk. In fact, sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases lifetime melanoma risk by 80 percent. On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.”

The organization recommends wearing sunscreen every day in the summer, seeking shade, covering up your body, and wearing a broad-brimmed hat and UV blocking sunglasses. It has created a rival hashtag #IDontTan and is running an ad with a photo of a gravestone marked “Your Name Here” and the message “Keep Tanning.”

That may sound extreme, since the large majority of people who get skin cancer survive the disease. There are three common kinds of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, or squamous cell carcinoma. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that almost 10,000 people in the United State are estimated likely to die of melanoma in 2015. Anywhere from 4,000 to 9,000 Americans have died yearly in recent years from squamous cell carcinoma and some 3,000 from advanced basal cell carcinoma. Most of the cases are caused by exposure to the sun.

Skin cancer is a growing problem around the world. The World Health Organization reports that a decline in the amount of protective ozone in the atmosphere is allowing more solar UV radiation to reach us as we lie on the beach. Lower ozone levels lead to more skin cancer.

Parents dreading a battle with their kids at the beach now have some help. In sun-bathed Rio de Janeiro, companies teamed up to hand kids on beaches a Nivea Doll made from UV-sensitive materials. The doll turns red when exposed to rays without sunscreen. When lotion is applied to the burn, it returns to its normal shade. There are also an abundance of electronic gadgets for adults — some designed to look like jewelry — that remind you when it’s time to reapply.


March 25, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA