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Dermatologists Warn About the Dangers of Sunburn Art

Jul 02, 2015
TIME Health
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Searching for a creative outlet? Some people are turning to sunburn art, the hottest bad idea for your health.

A few photos—but perhaps not enough to qualify as a trend—tagged #sunburnart have popped up on social media, showing people intricately burned by the sun with the help of a strategically placed pattern.

That awful sunburn actually turned out to be pretty badass but still hurts like a MF #sunburn #ouch #sunburnart

A post shared by Brenden Eleen (@bbear430) on

Popularity of the practice is suspect, but it's warranted enough media attention that Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, the Skin Cancer Foundation's senior vice president, released the organization's official position on sunburn art today:

The Skin Cancer Foundation strongly advises the public to avoid sunburns at all costs. 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 Skin Cancer Foundation recommends adopting a complete sun protection regimen that includes seeking shade, covering up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV blocking sunglasses, in addition to daily sunscreen use.

Neither dermatologist we talked to had seen sunburn art in the flesh—although people who intentionally burn themselves are probably not the most likely to book skincare appointments.

"I’ve definitely seen it advertised online, where they have little tracings and they just mark it out, the part that’s covered," says Dr. Aurora Badia, a dermatologist at Florida Skin Center, who first learned about sunburn art years ago. "It definitely is not a good idea. Any time you get a sunburn, you’re at more risk for melanoma, but there’s no inherent difference between sunburn art and regular sunburn."

MORE: This Is The Only Sunscreen Article You Need To Read

Dr. Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, says she, too, has yet to see a patient with intentional sunburn art—but art, of course, is open for interpretation. "Certainly we see people who have what’s loosely termed a 'farmer’s tan', or when people apply their sunscreen and miss a spot," she says. Other accidental sunburn artists include children who've forgotten to remove a sticker, a watch or a bracelet while playing in the sun, she says.

Sunburn art is treated the same way a normal sunburn is, both doctors agree, and it's every bit as dangerous; sunburns, artistic or not, raise your risk for skin cancer.

"I’d encourage people to wear their sunscreen," says Dr. Piliang. "Cover up, seek the shade, and really be safe in the sun over the Fourth of July weekend."

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