PEOPLE spoke with a skin cancer expert about the dangers of this painful beauty trend
It looks like some beachgoers consider sunscreen so last year.
A questionable beauty trend has picked up steam on the Web in recent days: People are branding themselves with artistic designs – by getting sunburned.
In a fad dubbed #sunburnart, individuals apply sunblock to selective areas of their bodies to create patterned tan lines, and then they share their stenciled and sunned skin on social media. (Think Kim Kardashian circa 2009, though her sunglass-shaped burn was totally accidental!)
But a flock of Twitter users have already caught on to the harmful habit and are calling out trend followers.
“#SunburnArt really?!? Please wear your sunblock people!” one Twitter user wrote.
Another critic of the fad posted, “I hope these #SunburnArt fools have good health [insurance]. They’ll need it when those pesky melanomas start popping up.”
New York City-based dermatologist Elizabeth Hale says she was concerned when she saw the photos but admits she’s “not all that surprised.”
“We do know there’s an increasing interest in tattoos, and we’re seeing a lot of people doing more body art, both permanent tattoos and even amateur tattoos,” Dr. Hale tells PEOPLE. “They’re becoming so popular, so I’m sure people are seeing this as the next beauty trend. Also, the shock value of it is probably what’s making it appealing.”
But while the skin designs will eventually fade, the damage will not.
“What’s particularly concerning about these pictures is that I can imagine that people will see this trend and then on a weekend like July 4th, the start of summer, they will probably like the shock value and remove their shirts to this intense exposure on typically covered-up skin,” Hale adds.
“What’s so scary about this sunburn art is they’re often being done on areas that are usually protected. Areas that are exposed everyday – like the face, the neck, the back of the hand – get a low level of sun exposure daily. But people are exposing areas of their body that have been covered year round. It’s as if more virginal skin is getting this intense sun exposure, which all of the data show is much more dangerous than chronic sun exposure.”
So just how dangerous is that painful-to-the-touch redness? Hale explains that “either two blistering sunburns as a child or five sunburns at any time in your life, both of those double your chance for melanoma, which is the most deadly form of skin cancer.”
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Not that opting for a more gentle summer glow is a healthy alternative.
“I wouldn’t recommend that someone do tan art in the place of sunburn art,” Hale says. “A tan represents DNA damage. That’s what a tan is. It’s basically like our body trying to mount a response to the damage that it’s taking in. There’s nothing good about a tan.”
Hale advises all of her patients to take precautions, including reapplying sunblock (SPF 30 or higher!) every two hours, wearing a hat and sunglasses, hitting the shade when possible and swimming in a rash guard.
“It’s really important to know that sunscreen is just a part of the whole sun-protection picture,” says Hale. “Skin cancer is one of the few cancers where we know exactly what causes it. It can largely be prevented as long as you don’t do stupid things like indoor tan – or sunburn art.”