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Sunburn Tattoos’ Could Be the Worst Viral Challenge Ever

By David Saunders, Health Editor

Instagram is full of all kinds of viral challenges. Some of them are charitable such as “The Ice Bucket Challenge,” some are silly like the Kyle Jenner ‘Lip Challenge,’ others are fitness-oriented such as planking in obscure places. The sunburn tattoo challenge which has its own hashtag on Instagram is downright dangerous.

Dr. Manish Shah is a board-certified Denver, Colorado plastic surgeon. As a father of three teen-agers, he is all too aware of this alarming summer trend.

What it is: Young people are putting stencils or stickers on their skin, then they lay in the sun without sunscreen. After they burn and take the stencil off – what’s behind is an outline known as the “sunburn tattoo.”  Other sunbathers do the inverse and use a stencil to hide some skin from the sun while burning the surrounding area.

The dangers: Dr. Shah says, “At first glance, it may look like harmless fun in the sun. The bottom line is that sunburn tattoos are extremely dangerous and can put you at serious risk of skin cancer.”

What makes this more dangerous than a ‘standard burn’ explains Dr. Shah is that for the stencil, or tattoo, to be visible, you would have to damage the surrounding tissue enough that it either tans heavily or burns. By intentionally keeping the area sunscreen-free will do harm to the DNA in the skin cells.  Dr. Shah warns that “sitting out in the sun without the appropriate protection could not only cause life-long damage, but could also double the risk of skin cancer.”

Is there a safe way to get a sunburn tattoo? Dr. Shah has three kids, and he would rather see them get an actual tattoo than use this method. “There is no safe way to get a sunburn tattoo. That is a major misconception. There is no such thing as a safe tan. Kids are doing a lot of these sunburn tattoos. When you have young skin like that, it is especially vulnerable to ultraviolet rays. You are more likely to see signs of aging.”

A Safe Way: You can order all kinds of temporary designs online, ask for an airbrush design from a tattoo shop, and if you want the tan tattoo look, just put a sticker on your arm before rubbing on self-tanner.

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