Sunburn risk is greatest for young adults with melanin-rich skin, according to a study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
Researchers found a surprising correlation between reporting a red or painful sunburn lasting a day or more with being 18 to 29 years of age and not self-identifying as white.
"The concern here is that participants with high melanin content skin may think they're naturally protected from sunburn, which isn't true,” says Tracy Favreau, DO, an osteopathic dermatologist in Davie, Fla. “We need to develop tailored sunburn prevention programs to change attitudes and reduce the risk of melanoma."
Dr. Favreau and the co-authors suspect the combination of youth and having melanin-rich skin provides a false sense of invincibility or resiliency to sunburn.
Some of the survey's predictors of sunburn seem obvious, like spending time outside during peak daylight hours or having a negative attitude toward sun protection. Others were less intuitive; for example, having a full-body skin exam or a perceived vulnerability to skin cancer.
There was no timeline established for survey participants. It could be that those who had serious sunburn were then more likely to get a full-body skin exam and feel more vulnerable to skin cancer.