NOEL KING, HOST:
During summer beach season, lots of us mix sunshine and booze. Maybe think twice. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports that drinking alcohol can up your chances of getting a bad sunburn.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: The leading risk factor for developing melanoma is getting too much sun. But there is also evidence that drinking alcohol is linked to an increased risk of skin cancer, too. Aaron White of the National Institutes of Health says one reason is, when people drink, they're less likely to apply sunscreen and more likely to stay in the sun longer. But it turns out, this is not the whole story.
AARON WHITE: The research suggests that alcohol reduces the amount of time you can spend in the sun before you get a burn.
AUBREY: White says alcohol seems to have a direct effect on the skin, and the evidence comes from a small study. Researchers in Germany recruited a group of healthy men and measured how much UV light it took to burn their skin after they'd consumed about three drinks.
WHITE: And what they found is that after the three drinks, the amount of UV light it took to burn the skin was significantly less. And so it's surprising because it tells us that alcohol increases your risk of getting sunburn not just because people don't tend to put on sunscreen.
AUBREY: It's not exactly clear why this happens, but the scientists have a hunch. As part of their study, they measured levels of carotenoids, antioxidants that can help protect against the damage done by the sun.
WHITE: And they found that after three drinks of alcohol, levels of carotenoids in the skin were lower. And so they speculate that those lower levels of carotenoids rendered the skin more vulnerable to the damaging effects of the UV light.
AUBREY: More research is needed to nail this down, but White says the connection is important.
WHITE: The added risk of sunburn with alcohol is probably one of the contributing factors to the increased rates of skin cancer in people who drink.
AUBREY: While most people have heard the advice to use sunscreen, the advice to moderate alcohol consumption may help protect your skin, too. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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