Why a Single Sunburn Can Cause Skin Cancer

Before you head outdoors, don’t forget to arm yourself with sunscreen, a shirt, and a hat to avoid getting a sunburn. Several studies confirmed that sunburns increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays is how you can enjoy the outdoors in a healthy way.

Keep reading to learn more about the link between skin cancer and sunburns, which Dr. Martin Weinstock, a professor of dermatology and epidemiology at Brown University will help explain in detail.

A Single Sunburn Increases Your Risk of Skin Cancer

When your skin absorbs ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun — which can happen as soon as you go outside — it can damage the genetic material of your skin cells. The short-term effect is a sunburn. In the long run, it builds up and increases the risk of skin cancer. Therefore, even a single sunburn raises your chances of developing skin cancer.

“This is a situation where if you get a few sunburns, that increases your risk of skin cancer a little. If you get lots of sunburns, that can increase your risk of skin cancer a lot,” said Weinstock during an interview with Healthline. One sunburn, he adds, “can make a difference, but it’s not as big a difference as if you have many sunburns.”

Just Because You Didn’t Get Sunburned, Doesn’t Mean You’re Safe

In addition, it’s crucial to understand that even if you never get burned, exposure to sunlight can still damage your skin cells and raise your risk for skin cancer. It’s not the burn itself that leads to cancer, but rather the sun exposure associated with a sunburn.

“The ultraviolet radiation that’s absorbed by the skin is what raises the risk. If you get a little bit, then you may not get a burn. You may not get anything that feels painful at all, but you still have some damage that’s being accumulated.” warns Weinstock.

The Earlier the Exposure, the More Dangerous

Constant, unprotected, and/or excessive exposure to sunlight is harmful to your skin cells and contributes to a higher risk of skin cancer at any age. However, exposure at a younger age may be more dangerous. 

For instance, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, having a total of at least five blistering sunburns in early life raises melanoma risk by 80 percent. The more experienced five or more severe sunburns when they were between 15 to 20 years old were 80 percent more prone than others to develop melanoma in their lifetime.

“Early exposures, in general, are of greater concern than exposures later in life because you have a longer period of time in which to get additional insults to your cells that can ultimately result in skin cancer or other adverse consequences,” explained Weinstock. 

As such, parents need to take steps to protect their children and themselves from UVA and UVB rays, especially since tanning is “fashionable” to many people with light skin. Tanning beds can also damage skin cells and raise your risk of skin cancer.

Weinstock notes that many states in the U.S. have proposed and passed laws to prevent anyone under the age of 18 from using commercial tanning beds. As of January 1, 2012, California was the first state to ban use of UV indoor tanning devices for all minors. “From my understanding, New York will be the 18th [state to pass the bill],” he added

If you have children, here’s How to Discuss Skin Cancer Prevention With Your Teen.

Slip-Slop-Slap Campaign

“Slip-slop-slap” is how you can enjoy the great outdoors in a manner that doesn’t harm your skin and overall health. The Slip-Slop-Slap (slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, and slap a hat over your head) campaign is a sun-protection and anti-skin cancer initiative in Australia — where skin cancer is most common. Its mission is to encourage everyone to protect themselves from the sun to reduce their risk of skin cancer.

“Sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater and clothing with a tight weave will give you good protection,” Weinstock said. However, keep in mind that you need to reapply your sunscreen after staying outside for longer than two hours, especially if you will be sweating or towel-drying your body after sports or swimming. Generally, sunscreens sit on the surface of your skin. If you exercise or go swimming and then use a towel to dry off the excess sweat  or water, “you need to put on more,” advises Weinstock.

Seeking shade under an umbrella or tree can also offer protection from the sun.

Skin Cancer Affects Millions of Americans

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. The majority of people with skin cancer have either basal cell or squamous cell cancers, which are usually curable. Other people develop melanoma of the skin, which is accountable for most skin cancer-related deaths.

The Skin Cancer Foundation reported that as many as 9,500 people in the United States receive a skin diagnosis every day, and two people die of the disease every hour.

If you notice a new sore, patch, spot, or any growth on your skin that does not heal within several weeks, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Skin cancer can develop anywhere, including on your genital area. Read about the 10 Surprising Skin Cancer Sites for more information.

A Final Word of Advice

Despite the rise of skin cancer cases, protecting your skin does not mean you should live as a hermit during the daytime. Using the slip-slop-slap method and checking your skin for signs of skin cancer can go a long way in keeping you safe and healthy as you enjoy the sunshine.

Non-Invasive Skin Cancer Treatment

Early and proper treatment can mean the difference between surviving and losing the battle with skin cancer. Here at New Hope Unlimited, our multidisciplinary structure involves specialists in different medical fields coming together to achieve more successful outcomes in the treatment and follow-up of skin cancer. Call 480-666-1403 today to make an appointment.

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