The app is cracking down on yet another harmful challenge, while doctors are reminding us of the severe consequences.
TikTok is feeling the heat after Australian medical professionals publicly criticized the app’s harmful #SunburnChallenge trend. The hashtag, which encourages users to show off their most painful sunburns, extreme tan lines, and peeling skin appears to glamorize baking in the sun without any SPF protection, for the sake of #content. To combat this care-free approach to sun damage, TikTok announced its new "Tanning. That’s Cooked" campaign — an initiative that’s seemingly specific to Australia — which adds informational pop-ups to related videos in an attempt to educate users on the life-threatening ramifications of unsafe sun exposure, The Guardian reported. TikTok will also reportedly ban both the sunburn challenge and the similar #TanningChallenge, and pull content that mentions it.
The trend seems to have started in Australia, and initial criticism surfaced back in September — leading into summer in Australia and New Zealand. During a National Press Club of Australia event, Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) co-medical directors Professor Georgina Long and Professor Richard Scolyer spoke out against the TikTok challenge, with Long emphasizing the need to “change the cultural narrative around sunburn and tanning.”
On Thursday, MIA CEO Matthew Browne expressed gratitude that TikTok is finally stepping in to do something. "Our medical directors put out a plea about the urgent need to stop the glamourisation of tanning, to save young lives, and we are delighted TikTok provided its support,” he said in a statement. “One Aussie is diagnosed with melanoma every 30 minutes; and melanoma claims more lives than the national road toll.” According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, Australia and New Zealand have the highest skin cancer rates in the world; in the U.S., meanwhile, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, per the American Academy of Dermatology.
While the sunburn trend may have begun down under — and the new campaign to combat it seems localized in Australia — it’s also garnered popularity among U.S. users. The hashtag #SunburnChallenge currently has more than 8 million views worldwide, to the detriment of our skin health. “Sunburns are a sign of skin damage and as a result, can increase the risk of skin cancer and premature aging,” Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, tells Mic. “Even just one sunburn can increase the risk of skin cancer like melanoma.”
And it’s not just the sunny days that turn your skin red that are dangerous, either. As Brendan Camp, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College, tells Mic, sunburns are signs of severe damage — but tans are still signs of damage. Indeed, “your skin remembers every exposure,” Jodi LoGerfo, DNP, a doctor of nursing practice and dermatology nurse practitioner, tells Mic. “Each time you tan, the damage builds up and creates more damage to your DNA, more mutations, and increases your risk of skin cancer.”
To avoid becoming a statistic, the CDC recommends finding shade however and whenever possible; this includes wearing a wide-brimmed hat, using an umbrella, or sporting long-sleeved shirts and long pants outdoors. Slathering on a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher (the higher the number, the more long-lasting the protection) and reapplying is always encouraged. “The earlier you start practicing sun safety, the more likely you are to decrease your risk of developing skin cancer,” LoGerfo says.
If you do get a sunburn (intentional or not), your focus should be on healing, protecting your skin from further exposure, and preventing further damage — not posting it on TikTok, and certainly not exacerbating the damage by messing with it. “It is important not to pick or pop the blisters and to be gentle on the skin to minimize scarring or further damage,” Garshick says.
As for what you should do, Camp suggests “taking cool showers to help relieve pain, applying an aloe-based moisturizer to soothe sensitive skin, drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, and avoiding clothing that abrades the affected area to prevent additional irritation.” If the burn looks or feels severe, he recommends consulting a board-certified dermatologist.
TikTok has made their move. Now it’s up to us to begin (or continue) incorporating sun-safe skincare advice into our everyday routines. Pocket-sized sunscreen, here we come.