Can Sunburn Cause Skin Cancer?
Sunburn is an often painful sign of overexposure to UV rays. It can cause pain, redness and discomfort in the short term. And in the long term, increased exposure to the sun raises your risk of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in the U.S. and the number of cases continues to rise. If you want to try to minimize your skin cancer risk, it’s important to know how exposure to UV rays and sunburn can impact your skin.
Read on to learn some facts you should know about sunburns and skin cancer risk.
1. Some people are more prone to sunburn.
People with light skin are much more likely to have their skin damaged by UV rays – and to get skin cancer. Still, darker-skinned people, including people of any ethnicity, can also be affected.
2. Exposure can start early in life
When you are exposed to lots of UV rays as a young person, the longer you will be exposed. Longer exposure means you might be at more of a risk for skin cancer as you age. Protecting yourself at a young age can limit your chances of developing cancer over time.
3. Even a single sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer.
Without protection, the sun’s UV rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. And no matter how mild, every burn is a sign of injury to your skin that could result in skin cancer development later.
4. Repeated sunburns raise your risk of skin cancer.
Your risk of developing potentially deadly skin cancer doubles with a history of five or more sunburns. The more you burn, the greater your risk of skin cancer.
5. You can still burn during the winter months.
While the sun’s intensity is lower during the winter, snow often reflects the damaging rays of the sun. This can increase your chance of sunburn or damage to your skin.
6. You can still burn on an overcast day.
Up to 80 percent of UV rays can penetrate clouds, so the risk remains even when sunlight isn’t at its strongest.
7. Even without a burn, sun exposure raises skin cancer risk.
Even if your skin type is dark and your skin does not redden easily, the sun can cause cell damage that can lead to skin cancer. It’s not the burn itself that affects your risk. It’s the sun exposure associated with that burn.
Sunburn can be bad news for your health. But the good news is that it’s totally preventable.
Protect Yourself from the Sun
It’s important to take steps to prevent sunburn every day. Some only think about sun protection when they spend a day at the lake, beach or pool. But sun exposure adds up day after day, and it happens every time you are in the sun.
Here are some simple steps you can take to limit your exposure to UV rays:
- Avoid being outdoors in direct sunlight for too long. This is particularly important between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV light is strongest. You should go indoors or seek shade under a shelter, umbrella, or tree.
- Wear clothing to cover your skin. Remember, different clothes provide different levels of UV protection. And be aware that covering up doesn’t block out all UV rays.
- Apply sunscreen properly. And don’t forget to read the label before using it! Sunscreens with broad spectrum protection and with sun protection factor (SPF) values of 30 or higher are recommended.
- Wear a hat. A baseball cap protects the front and top of the head but not the neck or the ears, where skin cancers commonly develop. Hats made of tightly woven fabric with a wide brim (at least 3 inches) or a piece of fabric that drapes over the neck reduce the amount of exposure.
- Say no to tanning beds and sun lamps. UV light from tanning beds can be just as harmful as real sun rays. Use a sunless tanning lotion instead to get a darker look without the danger.
Protecting yourself from the sun consistently from an early age is the strongest defense against sunburn and developing skin cancer. No person or method is perfect, though, so be sure to adopt as many of these steps as possible into your lifestyle.
Because one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 702, all adults should do monthly skin self-exams. If you see something suspicious or have the risk factors we discussed at the beginning, don’t hesitate to call your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment for skin cancer can mean the difference between life and death.