Going to the beach is already something of a stressful event for those of us who sunburn easily, or are concerned about the threat of skin cancer, but the results of a new study suggest one of our favorite beach pastimes puts human beings in even more risk. This German study found that the consumption of alcohol may be directly linked to skin sunburning at a faster rate.
Now, the obvious question here is to ask whether this is simply the result of participants either forgetting to apply sunscreen because they’re drinking, or forgetting to reapply it, but the results imply no such luck. Instead, the men in the survey displayed skin that would burn more quickly in the same level of sun exposure, even with sunscreen, if they had been consuming alcohol. As one researcher put it, “the amount of UV light it took to burn the skin was significantly less.”
As for why this is, the researchers theorize that it’s tied to the presence of pigments called carotenoids in the skin. Normally, the presence of these yellow, orange and red pigments—which we ingest via plants and vegetables in our diet—helps to block to harmful effects of the sun’s UV light. In people who have been drinking alcohol, on the other hand, the levels of carotenoids in the skin was seen to decrease. As these antioxidants in the skin decreased, the skin became more sensitive to the damage done by UV light, and it became easier to sunburn. Two previous studies from Japan and France have similarly suggested that regular alcohol consumption leads to lower concentrations of beta carotene in the skin.
All in all, the study’s results could be part of the puzzle that explains why regular alcohol consumers statistically have higher likelihood of developing certain forms of skin cancer. As NPR’s summary puts it, alcohol may act in the body in a variety of ways, “and activate a chains of reactions that could make people more vulnerable to skin cancer.”
In terms of practical concerns, it’s just another thing to consider when you’re headed to the beach. If the plan is to get into the sun and start pounding some hard seltzers, you’re probably going to want to double up your UV protection.