How do sunburns increase your risk of skin cancer?

A female touching her sunburned shoulderDecades ago, women were encouraged to lay out in the sun with their skin slathered in baby oil. Many claim this fashion movement was first started by Coco Chanel, the trendsetter who helped make tanned skin so desirable. “Bronzed skin became a status symbol. It was a sign of ultimate leisure, and those who could afford to travel to tropical vacation spots,” says Dr. Adam Mamelak, board certified Dermatologist and skin cancer specialist at Sanova Dermatology in Austin, Texas. By the 1980s, the tanning bed had been invented which enabled everyone to stay dark year round. Unfortunately, we now know that the ultraviolet (UV) rays from both the sun and from tanning beds have been damaging our skin. In fact, it’s been established that sunburns increase your risk of skin cancer.

You may think that the pink or redness on your skin after staying out in the sun too long is just a painful nuisance, but according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases your risk of getting melanoma later on in life by 80 percent. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. Although melanoma isn’t the most common type of skin cancer, it is the most dangerous and is the most common cause of death from cancer.

It’s really important that you follow these guidelines to minimize sun damage:

  • Avoid sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm. If you have to be outside, stay in the shade.
  • Wear hats with a 4 inch brim which will cover your face, neck, and ears.
  • Choose sunglasses with UV protection so you don’t damage your eyes.
  • Cover up in clothes that have UV protection.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Make sure it protects against UVA and UVB rays. Reapply it every 2 hours.

The National Cancer Institute has devised a Melanoma Risk Assessment for patients. People with increased risk of skin cancer should have skin checks at least once a year, but more often if you’ve had skin cancer.

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