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Skin cancer group issues warning about 'sunburn art'

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The Skin Cancer Foundation is warning about the dangers of "sunburn art," a social media-fueled fad gaining popularity among young people.

If you haven't heard of it, sunburn art is an intentional sunburn in the shape of an image, design or pattern. It's created by exposing certain parts of the skin to the sun without any sunscreen, covering or other form of sun protection.

A quick glance at Google Images shows just how elaborate people are getting with it – creating sunburn art that depicts everything from flowers and hearts to the Batman symbol and the Mona Lisa.

The trend has reportedly picked up steam this summer on social media, with Twitter and Instagram users posting pictures with the hashtag #SunburnArt.

The practice is widespread enough that the Skin Cancer Foundation is stepping in to warn people of the dangers. Dr. Deborah Sarnoff, senior vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation, minces no words in a statement on the organization's website:

Sunburns cause DNA damage to the skin, accelerate skin aging, and increase your lifetime skin cancer risk. In fact, sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases lifetime melanoma risk by 80 percent. On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns

Melanoma accounts for only 2 percent of all skin cancer cases but is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It develops in the deep layers of the skin and can spread to other parts of the body if not treated. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that 73,870 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in 2015, and 9,940 people will died from the disease.

Other dermatologists are weighing in on the dangers of sunburn art. "A sunburn is worse than a tan, but any time you're in contact with ultraviolet light, you're damaging your skin," Dr. Tina Alster, director at the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, tells Cosmopolitan. "Even if you're not getting burned, the damage is done. The UV light is changing the DNA in your skin."

Sarnoff says the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a complete sun-protection regimen that includes daily sunscreen use, seeking shade whenever possible, wearing protective clothing and a broad-brimmed hat and donning sunglasses that block ultraviolet (UV) rays. The sunscreen should be a broad-spectrum lotion with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, experts note.

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