Getting A Summer Tan Is Riskier For Your Health Than You Think

A recent survey issued by the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) revealed some troubling statistics that have health experts concerned about Americans' risk of skin cancer. More than half of 1,000 adults surveyed reported believing that tan skin gives people a healthier appearance. Contrary to this belief, experts say that getting a summertime tan poses some serious health risks.

Survey data revealed that the number of people who got sunburned within the last year jumped from 25% to 33% between 2020 and 2021. Occurring when UV rays hit our skin, a sunburn is a result of skin damage, per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the severity of a sunburn is not always immediately apparent. Symptoms such as redness, warmth, tenderness, pain, or peeling may not emerge for anywhere from six hours to a few days following the injury. And yes, just as a sunburn is considered a skin injury, so is a tan.

"A tan is your body's response to injury," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand announced in a public statement via the AAD. "When you tan, you are intentionally putting your health at risk," Dr. Houshmand added. The number of survey respondents who reported getting a tan rose from 54% to 63% between 2020 and 2021.

Addressing common myths about sun tanning

28% of sunburned respondents said their sunburn caused enough discomfort to make their clothes uncomfortable. Sunburns most often affected the face, arms, shoulders, and neck (via AAD).

"This increase in sunburns is very concerning. Both tanning and sunburning damage your skin. The more you tan and sunburn, the more this damage builds up over time, increasing your risk of premature skin aging, including age spots, sagging and wrinkling, and skin cancer," cautions Dr. Houshmand in a public statement.

The survey also explored respondent beliefs around tanning and awareness of sunburn risks. Among the reported findings, 20% of participants felt that tanning is safe as long as you don't get sunburned. Additionally, 18% falsely believed that a base tan decreases one's chance of developing skin cancer. 24% of respondents were unaware you could get sunburned on a cloudy day, while 15% did not know you could get sunburned through a car window.

Over 197,000 new cases of melanoma are expected to be diagnosed across the country this year, notes AAD, while warning that just one blistering sunburn before adulthood nearly doubles a person's likelihood of later developing the condition. To help mitigate these risks, experts are urging people to take preventative measures such as staying in the shade when outdoors, wearing sun-protective clothing, and using a water-proof, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.