New Research: Sun Dangers Known, But Sunburn Still Common

CLEVELAND – By now, most of us know that using sunscreen and sun avoidance measures are the best ways to protect ourselves from a sunburn.

But according to a new study, despite our sun-safety knowledge, many of us are still getting burned.

The study looked at 31,162 adults of various ages and ethnicities.

Researchers found that those most likely to get a sunburn were young adults, those with sun-sensitive skin, those who exercised outdoors, used sunless tanner or were obese.

Melissa Piliang, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic did not take part in the study, but said it shows that sunburns are still quite common.

“Sunburn was very common,” she said. “More than a third of people in the study experienced sunburn during the year. For young people in their twenties, about 50 percent of them experienced a sunburn.”

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Dr. Piliang said having one or more bad sunburns increases a person’s risk for skin cancers and skin aging.

And too much sun is not only risky for folks with fair skin tones. The study found that even people with darker skin tones had a 13 to 30 percent risk of getting a sunburn.

The study also showed that people doing outdoor aerobic exercise have a higher risk of sunburn – which is likely due to an increased amount of time spent in the sun, as well as the possibility of sweating off sunscreen during activity.

Dr. Piliang recommends those who exercise outdoors to wear a water-proof, sweat resistant sunscreen.

“They also found that people who used sunless tanners were more likely to have experienced a sun burn,” she said. “That suggests that people who are seeking a tan, either from a bottle or from the sun, are more likely to experience a sunburn.”

Dr. Piliang said often times people mistakenly believe using sunless tanner will protect them from the harmful effects of the sun, but this isn’t the case. She said sunscreen and other smart sun behaviors are still needed to prevent burns and damage.

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“Wear sunscreen and really follow the directions on the package very carefully,” she said. “You want to apply it before you go outside; put on an ounce of sunscreen- that’s the amount in a shot glass – to cover your whole body; and reapply every few hours, especially after swimming or sweating.” 

Dr. Piliang said it’s important to know that even when we use sunscreen, we can still get burned, which is why it’s important to take additional avoidance measures, such as seeking shade and avoiding the sun during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Complete result of the study can be found in JAMA Dermatology.