The Big Number: Sunburn and the dangers of skin cancer

By Linda Searing,

Each year, more than 33,000 people seek emergency room treatment for sunburn, according to the National Cancer Institute. Overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays causes sunburn, which can be painful because of the reddened, swollen and sometimes blistered skin that it creates. But beyond the discomfort, sunburn comes with longer-term health risks. It accelerates the aging of your skin and increases your risk for skin cancer. Essentially, the more often you have sunburn, the more likely you are to develop skin cancer, the most common type of cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that 1 in 5 Americans gets skin cancer by age 70, and that five or more sunburns more than doubles your risk for developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Health experts say, however, that sunburn is preventable. Dermatologists recommend applying a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 whenever you are in the sun (and reapply it every two hours) as it can filter out 97 percent of the rays that lead to sunburn. SPF ratings represent how well a sunscreen blocks UV rays, with higher numbers indicating more protection. To be safe, also try to avoid sun exposure when it is most intense — from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — or seek shade and wear protective clothing. Not taking preventive actions can lead to sunburn, which about a third of adults and more than half of adolescents experience each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

— Linda Searing

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