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Why Doctors Are Warning About Sunburn Art

In this edition of Vital Signs, a growing trend in social media called sunburn art: Using various materials and deliberate overexposure in the sun to create patterns on the body.

Dr. Travis Vandergriff is an attending Dermatologist with Parkland Hospital System and an Assistant Professor in the Dermatology department of UT Southwestern Medical Center. He explained how sunburn art works and why he considers it dangerous.

From Dr. Vandergriff’s interview:

What is sunburn art?  "The person applies something opaque to their skin, like strips of tape or sunscreen cream or a temporary tattoo or stencils, and then deliberately get some sun exposure to that area. When the opaque material is removed, there’s an area that’s spared by the sun exposure, and that is how the art is created on a person’s skin."

Why sunburn art dangerous: "Anytime that you’re intentionally exposing yourself to the sun, you’re creating a risk, not only for an acute sunburn reaction, but the chronic problems that come along with that, which would be an increased risk of skin cancer – something that could be fatal – and then, of course, aging of the skin, wrinkling, sunspots, and things they’ll regret later."

How sunburn damages the skin: "The acute reaction to a sunburn is inflammation in the skin, and that’s why you feel pain and that’s why you see redness and heat. The long term effects are due to the DNA damage or the damage that the ultraviolet rays from the sun can do to the genes in your skin, and that can ultimately lead to skin cancers. Your skin does have mechanisms to repair DNA damage, but the damage that’s done by ultraviolet rays from the sun can be permanent. And once permanent damage is done then the increased risk of skin cancer becomes quite high."

For more information: 

Skin Cancer Foundation on Sunburn Art 

What You Should Know About Sunscreen 

Five Ways to Treat Sunburn

Facts about sunburn

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.