The latest viral trendy sensation isn’t puffy lips or luscious lashes. It’s sunburn tattoos and experts say this trend can be harmful to your health.

With the July 4th holiday weekend just around the corner, it’s likely you’ll spend some time outside. If it’s at a barbeque, family get together or cooling off at a pool or the lake, it’s best to take precautions to protect your skin — such as wearing sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat — and limit your direct sun exposure as much as possible.

Although trendy sunburn tattoos may attract attention, they are actually very harmful and can cause other skin concerns in the future.

Severe sunburns can increase your chances of skin cancers like squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC). The American Academy of Dermatology estimates more than 3 million Americans are affected by BCC or SCC each year; more than 4 million cases of BCC are diagnosed in the United States each year and more than 1 million cases of SCC are diagnosed in the United States each year, per the Skin Cancer Foundation.

We spoke with Dr. Pablo Prichard, chief of Plastic Surgery at John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix about this trend, how it can harm your skin, and how to enjoy the sun’s rays in moderation.

AZ Big Media: How do sunburn tattoos damage the skin and how can they lead to health concerns in the future?  

Dr. Pablo Prichard: Sun exposure is cumulative over time; just a couple significant burns can greatly impact your risk of skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, but even worse, melanoma, so we have a much higher risk of skin cancer which can actually be lethal.

In addition to that, some things that young people don’t think about is skin aging. Skin damage and sun damage and sunburns will have a significant impact on skin aging over time. For example, the wrinkles that we form on the dermis – the strength layer of the skin – gets thinner as we get more sun damage, which basically makes the skin poor quality, poor texture, older looking and older feeling. And the surface, colored layer of the skin – the epidermis – gets discolored, we get sun spots, we start getting hemangiomas, moles…these all start happening as a result of skin aging and skin appearance; so it’s a problem both from the health perspective and aesthetic perspective.

ABM: How can people get that summer glow or sunburn tattoo in a healthier way?

PP: Bronzers and spray tans are a much healthier way of getting that summer glow. If somebody is really interested in wanting to have one of these look-a-like sun tattoos, you can accomplish the same kind of thing by wearing a decal or shirt and getting spray tanned, or wearing the decal on your skin and using the self-bronzer to take the decal off afterwards, so you get the same effect as a sunburn tattoo.

ABM: How do you recommend people protect their skin this summer in Arizona’s heat, such as products or clothing?

PP: Sunblock is the most important thing. There are various forms of sunblock; chemical blocks and physical blocks. Chemical blocks interact with your skin and try to prevent as much sun damage as possible due to a chemical reaction in your skin, and that takes time to work. So a lot of people go to the pool, apply their sunblock and they don’t realize that activation that happens in the skin takes at least 30 minutes to happen, so for 30 minutes they’re completely unprotected, so that kind of product needs to be applied indoors, 30 minutes before any sun exposure.

The better blocks are the physical blocks, and those have ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and those basically reflect the rays of the sun rather than try to inhibit damage from rays that are already getting to the skin. It’s also been shown that that’s a healthier sunblock protection; some of the chemical blocks have actually been outlawed in certain European countries due to the fact that they’ve been shown to have some toxic effects on the skin. 

Other things are obviously clothing, there are some block and UV protectant clothing. Ladies tend to get skin damage, melanomas and skin cancers on areas of their body that are not so common in men, such as their legs from wearing skirts or shorts or arms/shoulders from wearing tank tops or an off the shoulder shirt. One of the things I always tell ladies is if they are wearing skirts or shorts or tank tops, then they have to think about wearing sunblock on their legs or arms.

The areas of the body that get the most UV rays are areas that are perpendicular to the sun’s rays. So in other words, if you think about a flat surface on the ground, that gets a lot more sun than a vertical surface. So areas on our bodies such as shoulders, because the sun is directly hitting down on them, the cheeks, nose, forehead and ears, and a lot of people forget about their ears, but that is the area that gets the most sun because it’s in a direct plane towards the sun – are all areas that get the most sun.

ABM: How does proper sunscreen application and limiting direct sun exposure prevent skin damage?

PP: Try to stay in the shade using umbrellas, get under an overhang if you’re outside, try to be in the shade more than the sun, wear sunblock and keep it in your purse or with you in a bag or in the car. This is because reapplying the sunblock is very important; a lot of people think that 

If they apply it in the morning they’re good all day, that’s totally not true. You really should be reapplying your sunblock every 2 hours, and even the sunblocks that say they’re waterproof or sweatproof, nothing is, it’s kind of a misnomer, it’s water resistant. So the idea is once it gets wet and you’re in water in the pool once you get out of the pool, reapply after getting out of the pool to reprotect yourself.

The last thing is make sure you’re wearing enough sunblock. When you see a bottle of sunblock has a certain SPF – 30, 40 or 50, there is a small dose that gives you that SPF. If you’re not getting the proper dose of sunblock, you aren’t actually getting that SPF. So for the entire body, you need about an entire shot glass of sunblock and at least a quarter size for your face.

ABM: Why is protecting your skin an important part of your health?

PP: It just takes a couple severe sunburns to double your chance of getting melanoma. When people think, ‘It’s just a little bit of sun, it’s not really hurting me,’ it’s the accumulation of sun over a long period of time that is the problem. Even if it’s just a little bit every day; so how many hours of sun over the last 10 years is what’s really important. So that’s why protecting yourself every day is imperative both for health — skin cancers, and cosmesis — skin aging and appearance.

You can have very youthful skin at an older age if you pay attention to this when you’re young. By the time you’re 40, 50 or 60, you’ve caused a lot of sun damage and that’s why it’s so important to pay attention to this when you’re very young. The problem with that is the young people feel invincible so they don’t really think it’s going to harm them or they think skin aging is inevitable – it’s not. Sun damage is one of the most significant things that causes skin aging and skin cancer, much more than a mere number like age.