Can Drinking Outside On A Sunny Day Up The Risk For Skin Cancer?

By Beth Leipholtz 07/16/19

A new study examined whether drinking alcohol outside led to a faster sunburn. 

woman drinking on a sunny day

According to new research, there could be a link between consuming alcohol and increasing the risk for skin cancer. 

The research, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, notes that part of this is due to the fact that when drinking, people may forget to apply sunscreen or spend more time in the sun than they normally would.

Feeling The Burn

However, there’s more that comes into play.

"The research suggests that alcohol reduces the amount of time you can spend in the sun before you get a burn," Aaron White, senior scientific adviser with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), tells NPR.

Previous research done in Germany backs this up. There, researchers looked at a group of healthy men and measured the amount of UV light necessary to burn their skin after each man had consumed about three drinks. 

According to White, after the alcohol, "the amount of UV light it took to burn the skin was significantly less.”

Ultraviolet Light

This, White adds, is surprising “because it tells us that alcohol increases the risk of getting a sunburn—not just because people don't tend to put on sunscreen.”

Though the exact reason for this is unknown, researchers do have some ideas. One possibility has to do with carotenoids, which are “the yellow, orange, and red pigments that are produced by plants,” according to NPR. When a person consumes these, they may be more protected from UV. 

In the German study, the carotenoid concentration in the men decreased after they had drank alcohol, leading researchers to conclude that this could lead the skin to be more sensitive to burning. NPR states that two other studies, one in Japan and one in France, have demonstrated similar results. 

Still, there is no conclusive evidence as to exactly why those who consume alcohol seem to be more at risk when it comes to developing skin cancer. Eva Negri of the University of Milan says, "There are [likely] several explanations.” 

Researchers think alcohol may affect the body and skin in numerous ways, which can lead to a “chain reaction” leading them to be more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer. 

Though White says more research in this area is needed, he also notes that the connection between alcohol consumption and skin cancer is not one to take lightly.

"The added risk of sunburn with alcohol is probably one of the contributing factors to the [higher] rates of skin cancer [among] people who drink [alcohol]," he said. 

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.