A new study shows that alcoholic drinks increase the skin’s sensitivity to light. Drinking just one drink per day increases the risk of skin cancer, according to the British Journal of Dermatology. Consuming more alcohol makes sunlight even more dangerous. Drinking four drinks, the equivalent of 50 grams of ethanol, can raise a person’s risk of skin cancer by 55 percent.
The study reviewed 16 different studies that covered over 6,000 participants. It found that it does not take very much to increase the risk of skin cancer. Alcoholics are not the only people who are at risk. Sunbathing while enjoying alcoholic drinks, or even one drink, can make a difference. A single serving of wine or beer increases the risk by a fifth.
Once alcoholic drinks are consumed, the ethanol is converted into a chemical called acetaldehyde. The chemical is more damaging than alcohol and it makes skin more sensitive to light. In turn, it promotes sunburn and increases the risk for skin cancer. There is a direct correlation between UVA and UVB rays and an increased risk of skin cancer. Having a few drinks outside can be more dangerous than most people realize.
Dr. Eva Negri from the University of Milan co-authored the study. She explained that drinking while absorbing UV rays can change a person’s immune system. She then went on to explain that the altered immune system can result in a higher level of cell damage.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. One out of every five Americans develops some form of skin cancer. 3.5 million cases are diagnosed every year. Melanoma is one form of skin cancer that can be deadly. The abnormal skin cells spread rapidly. However, the survival rate for melanoma is high as long as it is detected early.
Early detection starts with knowing the warning signs. Self inspection is the first step in identifying skin conditions. Moles and other spots that change color, ooze, bleed, spread or itch are concerning enough to seek medical attention and get a professional opinion.
Some people are more prone to skin cancer than others. People who have fair skin, red hair, moles, a family history of skin cancer, history of sunburns during childhood or excessive sun exposure are at higher risk.
Researchers admit that the results may be affected by outside factors. For example, drinkers may not have worn enough clothing to protect them from the sun’s harmful rays. Other factors include failure to apply or reapply sunblock and sitting in direct sunlight too long. Furthermore, the individual reaction to UV rays were not accounted for.
As the study suggests, it is best to avoid alcoholic drinks while sunbathing. Other tips to avoid increasing the risk of skin cancer include seeking shade during the sun’s peak hours and wearing a hat, sunglasses and adding a light layer of clothing for extra protection. Of course, sunscreen is essential, even on cloudy days. Researchers point out that even though drinking is common at picnics, barbecues and other summer events, putting in the extra effort to protect the skin from sun damage is important. Moderation is key to enjoying alcoholic beverages in the sun.
Editorial by Tracy Rose