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The Viral Sunburn Tattoo Trend Is Seriously Dangerous—Here’s Why

Health.com logo Health.com 6/10/2019 Samantha Lauriello
a person wearing a dress © Provided by TIME Inc.

Every now and then a viral trend comes along that poses a major health threat. (Remember when people were eating Tide Pods?) This newest Internet fad is no different. Sunburn tattoos are the latest viral hit that you should never, ever try. Seriously, never.

To get a sunburn tattoo, people put stencils on their skin and then head out to soak in the sun without any sunscreen. When you remove the stencil, you'll have a sunburn-shaped design on your skin—like a temporary tattoo.

To get a better idea of what we're talking about, check out the photo below of a man who sunburned the Batman logo onto his chest.

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A post shared by The Treatment Skin Boutique (@thetreatment) on Jul 1, 2015 at 4:22am PDT

Other sunbathers do the inverse and use a stencil to hide some skin from the sun while burning the surrounding area.

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A post shared by FunTanTattoo (@funtantattoo) on Jun 26, 2015 at 7:35am PDT

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Sure it looks like harmless summer fun. But no matter how you spin it, sunburn tattoos are extremely dangerous and can put you at serious risk of skin cancer.

"In order for the stencil, or tattoo, to be apparent, you would have to damage the surrounding tissue enough that it either tans heavily or burns," Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York–based dermatologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology (FAAD), tells Health.

"Both tanning and burning the skin is detrimental to your health; they're signs that the skin is receiving ultraviolet radiation with mutating potential, which increases your risk of developing skin cancer and accelerates skin aging, meaning more wrinkles, sun spots, and loss of collagen, which causes sagging skin," she continues.

Health also spoke with Debra Jaliman, MD, dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, who had a similar take. "Purposefully keeping the area sunscreen-free will do harm to the DNA in your skin cells," Dr. Jaliman says. "Not only will you cause premature skin aging, but you will also be putting yourself at risk for skin cancer."

So listen to these dermatologists and skip the sunburn tattoo fad. Instead, show your skin lots of love by wearing sunscreen every single day, no exceptions.

To make sure you're properly protected, apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before you're going to be in the sun, and slather it on those less obvious body spots, like your lips, feet, eyelids, and underarms. You should also wear at least SPF 15 and reapply every 80 minutes.

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