You are more vulnerable to getting sunburnt than you think.
A new study has identified seven factors associated with increased risk of sunburn, with a combination of youth and having darker skin with a higher melanin content giving some individuals a ‘false sense of invincibility or resiliency’ to sun damage.
Carried out in Florida, a state with a particularly high risk of sunburn due to a high percentage of sunny days and prolonged sun exposure during days at the beach, the research looked at 619 participants aged 18-92 years old.
Fifty-six percent of the participants were white, with the sample comprising 205 men (33.1%) and 412 women (66.6%).
The team found that a younger age (18-29 years) was the most significant predictor of sunburn, with participants aged 18 to 29 years 15.3 times more likely and those 30 to 59 years 5.82 times more likely to have been sunburned in the past 12 months than those 60 or older.
The team said these results were “particularly troubling” as melanoma is the most prevalent type of cancer for people aged 25 to 29 and second most prevalent type of cancer for those aged 15 to 29.
Other significant predictors included identifying as nonwhite, having had a full-body skin examination by a physician, reporting higher levels of skin sensitivity to the sun, having a less favorable attitude toward sun protection, having high perceived vulnerability to skin cancer, and spending less than 1 hour outside between 10am and 4pm on weekends.
The team noted that spending less than an hour outside was associated with a higher risk than spending more than one hour outside possibly because people believe they cannot burn in a shorter amount of time.
The team were surprised to see other factors emerge, such as having a full-body skin exam, and suggested that it could up the risk due to negative results from an examination which have made patients feel overconfident about their melanoma risk.
Lead researcher Tracy Favreau, osteopathic dermatologist, noted that “tailored sunburn prevention programs” could help change attitudes and build better awareness of their risk for certain persons.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US, with five million people receiving treatment each year, and while melanoma may account for only two percent of occurrences it is the deadliest of the three forms of skin cancer as well as being largely preventable.
The findings are published online in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
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