Surprising Risk Factors for Sunburn: High Melanin Content is One
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and the fatality rate for African Americans with melanoma is higher than any other race. Of the three types of skin cancer, melanoma is not only the deadliest, but one of the most prevalent types of cancer for youth under 29 years old.
One major risk factor for skin cancer—sunburn—is preventable. Protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, no matter how high your melanin content is, can reduce your risk of melanoma.
“Osteopathic medicine is largely focused on prevention, and melanoma, the skin cancer caused by sun exposure, is imminently preventable,” said Tracy Favreau, DO, an osteopathic dermatologist in Florida.
In a recent Journal of the American Osteopathic Association study, researchers found seven predictors of sunburn, including being a young adult (18-29 years old), having melanin-rich skin, and having a negative attitude toward sun protection.
“The concern here,” said Dr Favreau, “is that participants with high melanin content skin may think they’re naturally protected from sunburn, which isn’t true.” The combination of youth and having melanin-rich skin may provide a false sense invincibility to sunburn.
Even patients who undergo a full-body examination by a clinician and spend less than one hour outside between peak daylight hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., are at risk for sunburn. Like the other risk factors, these findings may arise from a false sense of security. Patients who had no suspicious lesions or only plan to be outside for 30 minutes may think they’re not at risk.
Here are 3 key strategies to prevent sunburn:
- Regardless of your age or skin tone, use sunblock. An SPF of 30 or higher is best.
- Plan your outdoor activities around peak sun hours—before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
- Cover up. Wide-brimmed hats and light, loose-fitting clothing offer protective barriers from the sun.
No one is immune to sunburn. Understanding your risk and taking the appropriate preventive strategies from sunburn can help prevent future skin problems.