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My Dermatologist

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Sunburn and Tanning Risks

J Moore



Risks of sunburns and tanning


Sunburns occur when the skin has been damaged by ultraviolet light from the sun or tanning beds.  Tans occur when the skin, in response to this injury, produces more melanin.  The melanin darkens the skin and minimally protects the skin from more damage.  Tanned skin is injured skin.  Tanning is never recommended even to get a “base” before vacations.  Tanning beds are listed by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen.  There are several articles discussing tanning as the new smoking.


Initially with a sunburn, there is pain, swelling, warmth, burning and sometimes blistering.  If the sunburn is severe, some individuals may experience shock and need to be taken to the hospital especially if they experience fever, chills, nausea, vomiting and headaches.  At about 5-7 days the skin will start to peel, shedding the damaged skin cells.


Excessive sun exposure leads to sagging, wrinkly skin (photoaging).  The skin shows more blood vessels because it is thinner and is dotted with brown spots or freckles (age spots).  Easy bruising may occur.  Treating wrinkles and photoaging is very expensive and time consuming.  Protecting your skin prevents you from looking old before your time.


Some people develop rough sandpaper-like scaly spots called actinic keratosis which are precancerous.  These are usually treated by a dermatologist because 10-20% of AKs may become a squamous cell cancer if untreated.


The most common skin cancers are basal cell cancers and squamous cell cancers.  They are most often found in sun-exposed skin on the face, ears, bald scalps, noses, hands as well as other body parts. Both of these can be a non-healing red bump or scaly flat patch.  Sometimes these will bleed with minimal rubbing like with a washcloth.  In comparison, acne bumps and bug bites usually heal in 3 weeks.  If you have a spot that won’t heal after one month, these should be reported to the dermatologist immediately.


The most serious sun-related cancer is melanoma.  The risk of developing melanoma in the US has risen to 1/67 individuals in 2011.  Tanning increases your risk by about 75% in research by Lazovich.  Even one blistering sunburn in childhood doubles your risk.  The majority of skin cancer-related deaths are due to melanoma. 


If this does not convince you to prevent tanning and sunburns, watch this


Some individuals are very sun sensitive and can develop allergy-type rashes, other rashes and medication reactions.


Excessive sun exposure also suppresses the immune system which can lead to skin cancers.

The eyes are also sun sensitive.  Increased sun exposure can lead to cataracts of the lens of the eye making vision cloudy.  Wear sunglasses with UV protective lenses.

If any mole or lesion is concerning, please contact My Dermatologist to set up an evaluation at




5565 Blaine Avenue East, Suite 200 Inver Grove Heights, MN, 55076