Sunburn can be a painful, unsightly consequence of too much unprotected time spent in the sun. But sunburn is more than just a temporary nuisance. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunburn can cause long-lasting damage to the skin and increase a person's risk of developing skin cancer.
Sunburn tends to be so common, particularly during the warmer months of the year, that many people may consider it a relatively harmless byproduct of spending time outside under the sun. But the United Kingdom-based charitable organization Cancer Research UK notes that getting painful sunburn just once every two years can triple a person's risk of developing melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. A better understanding of sunburn and its relationship with skin cancer may encourage more people to prioritize protecting their skin when spending time in the sun.
What is sunburn?
Sunburn occurs when the DNA in skin cells has been damaged by UV radiation. Many people associate sunburn with skin that peels or blisters, but any skin that turns pink or red in the sun has been sunburnt.
Am I always vulnerable to sunburn?
Though many people may only get sunburns on hot days, that's not because the skin is not susceptible to sunburn year-round. In fact, sunburn can occur any time of year because it's caused by ultraviolet radiation, which has nothing to do with the temperature. Many people only spend time outdoors on hot days; hence, the reason they may only suffer sunburn in late spring and summer. Since sunburn can occur at any time of year, it's imperative that skin is covered up and sunscreen is applied regardless of what time of year a person is enjoying the great outdoors.
Am I out of the woods once my skin peels?
People who have experienced sunburn may have noticed their skin peeling in the days after they were burned, though not every sunburn victim's skin peels. Peeling is how the body rids itself of the damaged cells that can lead to cancer. But just because a sunburn victim's skin peels post-sunburn does not mean that person has necessarily dodged the skin cancer bullet. Some damage may remain after skin peels, and that remaining damage can still make sunburn sufferers vulnerable to skin cancer.
I've been sunburned. Now what?
A sunburn, even a particularly bad sunburn, does not guarantee a person will develop skin cancer. But frequent sunburns increase a person's risk of the disease, so people who have been sunburned, whether it's just once or several times, should revisit what they're doing to protect their skin before going back out in the sun. Wearing protective clothing, including long sleeve shirts and protective hats, and applying strong sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor, or SPF, of 30 are just a couple of ways to protect skin from sun damage.
More information about sunburn and skin cancer prevention is available at www.skincancer.org.