Social media can be a weird place. What’s “on fleek” on day may be out the next. But one new social trend may leave some people with scars forever.
The hashtag #SunburnArt has been mentioned over 6,000 times over the last six days, according to the social analytics site Topsy.
The tag features images of people strategically placing sunblock or fabric over different parts of their body. The person then lays in the sun, allowing their unprotected skin to burn, to then reveal “sunburn art” underneath.
Experts are warning that this trending tag may be one of the worst, and most dangerous, they’ve ever seen.
“The Skin Cancer Foundation strongly advises the public to avoid sunburns at all costs,” the foundation said in a statement forwarded to Opposing Views. “A sunburn is not only painful – it’s dangerous, and comes with consequences. Sunburns cause DNA damage to the skin, accelerate skin aging, and increase your lifetime skin cancer risk.”
The foundation’s statement explained that sustaining just five or more sunburns during a person’s youth increases lifetime melanoma risk by 80 percent.
“I was diagnosed in 2013 at age 41,” Carla Rake told Opposing Views in an email.
“I grew up covered in baby oil, laying out trying to get that perfect tan. Rarely used sunscreen, up until I was diagnosed, I was tan and sunburned,” Rake added.
That memory of lathering up in oil and laying out in the sun is a common one.
“Every time I’d come home I was totally burned,” Hillary Fogelson, author of "Pale Girl Speaks,” told Opposing Views.
Fogelson added that she was “always outside as a kid,” playing sports, spending time in the water, usually without giving sunscreen a second thought. As a teenager she even went to the tanning salon a few times in an attempt to get a tan without getting a burn.
She was 25 when she went to a dermatologist and was diagnosed with melanoma.
“That was the beginning,” Fogelson said, of her melanoma treatment and journey out of the sun.
And treatment of melanoma isn’t as pretty as the tan that got patients there.
“My first surgery was a wide excision, they cut out the mole and all surrounding tissue, my scar is about 6 inches across my abdomen,” Rake described. “My second surgery was to remove all the lymph nodes in my left groin, the cancer had spread, this also left me with lymphedema, my left leg swells all the time.”
For Fogelson, her first melanoma wouldn’t be her last. Even after becoming incredibly vigilant about her time in the sun, she has had it twice more since her first diagnosis.
Now Fogelson, Rake and other skin cancer survivors are sharing their own “sunburn art” on social media to show people what the lasting effects of the dangerous trend can be.
“I think this whole sunscreen art, unfortunately what it tells us is there is still an enormous amount of ignorance in terms of sunburn and sun exposure,” Fogelson said, adding that kids seemingly “aren’t afraid of skin cancer.”
To help combat the educational gap about skin cancer, organizations like the Melanoma Research Foundation, along with skin cancer survivors, are using the hashtag #MelamonaScar om social media.
“It’s really perpetuating a very frightening trend. It almost makes my skin crawl,” Shelby Moneer, Director of Education at the Melanoma Research Foundation, told Opposing Views.
Moneer, who holds a master’s degree in health education, along with the others we spoke with, agree that the dangers of skin cancer and sun exposure are “still a very difficult message to get across,” especially when beauty standards dictate that a tan makes a person more attractive.
Moneer noted that “any tan skin, any change in the color of your skin is a result of damage to skin cells."
As she pointed out, like smoking, “we know UV light is a known carcinogen.”
One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime, one person dies from melanoma every single hour, and each year nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer in the U.S. alone, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
So what can people do to prevent getting this costly disease?
It's simple: Wear sunscreen and cover up when you can.
“My regime is reapply, reapply, reapply,” Moneer said.
“My one thing is to get regular skin checks by a dermatologist,” Fogelson noted.
“I usually don't go out until after 5 p.m., If I do I'm covered almost head to toe, hat, long sleeves, pants, sunscreen, UV clothing and stay in the shade,” Rake added.
And don’t believe the hype on social media regarding sunburn art. As Fogelson pointed out, there are plenty of designers creating long sleeve rashguards that are worthy of your wardrobe. Or even, try a temporary tattoo. It will last longer, without adding a potential scar later down the road.