Reality Check: Just Five Sunburns Doubles Your Risk of Skin Cancer

Reality Check: Just Five Sunburns Doubles Your Risk of Skin Cancer

Yep, you read that right. If you’ve had five separate run-ins with sunburn, you have officially doubled your chances of developing skin cancer in your lifetime. The sun doesn’t mess around, particularly when it comes to where Australia sits geographically on the globe, which soaks up a huge amount of sun. To make things even worse for all the parents out there is the fact that medical research indicates that a single, severe, peeling sunburn in your child effectively doubles their chances of developing melanoma in their lifestyle. 

Let’s take a closer look at the medical research in question, and talk about how you can protect your skin, as well as keep your kids safe from the huge potential damage of the sun. 

Why Does Australia Have Huge Rates of Skin Cancer? 

In spite of what you may have heard, a hole in the ozone layer sitting directly on top of Australia is not the reason why Australians copp more than a fair share of skin cancer. Instead, it’s partially our lifestyle to blame, as well as the fact that European skin has absolutely no place to move from areas like the UK to Australia in such a short amount of time without some consequences. 

Through human evolution, populations in places that are absolutely inundated with sunlight - think Africa, the Middle East and the First Nation population of Australia - have developed darker skin tones over time. This change in skin pigment protects those populations, whom historically, have significantly lower chances of developing skin cancer than those with a European complexion. 

Throw in the fact that Aussies have an almost irrational love affair with outdoor activities mean that while we have a relatively small population, we lead the world when it comes to skin cancer. 

How Does the Sun Damage Our Skin?

The sun is immensely powerful, and too many people underestimate just how quickly and severely our skin burns when we’re outside, particularly between the timeframe of 10am and 2pm when the sun is strongest. The sun produces a huge amount of ultraviolet light, which is absorbed by our skin when sunscreen isn’t applied. 

Do Five Sunburns Really Double Your Chance of Developing Skin Cancer? 

It’s often pointed out by researchers and medical experts that there is a very finite amount of UV radiation that our bodies can deal with before the risk of developing skin cancer jumps in a dramatic fashion. For example, the U.S. Skin Cancer Foundation points to a medical study (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11260001/) who found that “more than five sunburns doubled the melanoma risk, irrespective of their timing in life.” The authors of that study found that “we found a very similar upward gradient of melanoma risk in exposure categories related to the frequency of sunburns,” pointing to the fact that a series of severe sunburns has a huge influence over our risk of developing melanoma. 

Does a Single Peeling Burn Double Your Chance of Skin Cancer? 

Even more alarming is the fact that medical research has pointed out that children’s skin is even more susceptible to the UV damage of the sun. The authors of the same study that raised the alarm over having five or more sunburns in adults have said (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11260001/) that a single peeling sunburn in a child or adolescent can effectively double their chance of developing skin cancer later in life. This is down to the fact that a child’s skin is significantly thinner than that of an adult, and children have lower levels of melanin in their skin to protect them from UV damage. 

With this in mind, it’s extremely important that you make the safety of your children’s skin a top priority. This extends far further than a simple trip to the beach, too. It’s advised that parents protect their children with wide-brimmed hats, full-length clothing and at the very minimum, SPF30+ sunscreen. 

How Can You Protect Your Skin From Cancer? 

Thankfully, skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer, and you can protect yourself with the same simple set of tools that you’ve known about for a lifetime, now. Applying sunscreen on a regular basis if you’re working outdoors or spending time at the beach, wearing a wide-brimmed hat - ideally something that offers neck protection - as well as seeking shade wherever possible are the simplest ways to avoid excess UV exposure. If you’re planning on heading outdoors, limiting the amount of time you spend outside during the hours of 10am and 2pm is a super effective of reducing your exposure to harmful UV light, which concentrates during these times.