Are some people more prone to skin damage from the sun?

Everyone’s skin and eyes can be affected by the sun and other forms of ultraviolet (UV) rays. People with fair skin are much more likely to have UV skin damage (and skin cancer), although people with darker skin, including people of any ethnic background, can also be affected.

For some people, the skin tans when it absorbs UV rays. Tanning is caused by an increase in the activity and number of melanocytes, the cells that produce the brown pigment called melanin . Melanin helps block harmful UV rays to some degree, which is why people with skin that is naturally darker are less likely to get sunburned, while people with lighter skin are more likely to get sunburned. Sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer, including melanoma. However, UV exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer even without causing sunburn.

In addition to skin color, other factors can also affect your risk of damage from UV light. You need to protect yourself from the sun especially if:

  • Have had skin cancer
  • You have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
  • Has many moles, irregular moles, or large moles
  • Has freckles and burns before tanning
  • Is a person with fair skin, has blue or green eyes, or is blonde, red-haired, or has light brown hair
  • Reside or take vacations in high altitude places (UV rays are more powerful as the altitude level is higher)
  • Reside or vacation in tropical or subtropical climates  
  • Work indoors all week, then get intense sun exposure on the weekend
  • Spend a lot of time outdoors
  • Have certain autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus)
  • You have certain inherited conditions that increase your risk of skin cancer, such as xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) or nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome (Gorlin syndrome).
  • You have a medical condition that weakens your immune system, such as HIV infection (the virus that causes AIDS).
  • Have received an organ transplant
  • Take medicines that weaken or suppress your immune system
  • Take medicines that make your skin more sensitive to sunlight

Ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist if you are taking any medications that may increase your sensitivity to sunlight.

No matter how sensitive your skin is to the sun, it is important to know how to protect yourself from UV rays.

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