Sun Protection for People of Color

There are resounding myths among the Black community: Black folks do not burn and only Caucasians get skin cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, one million people are diagnosed with skin cancer annually. Despite this staggering statistically information, many darker skin people (over 60 % to be exact) will skip the application of sunscreen because they think their darker tone will protect them damaging UV sun rays and developing skin cancer. Sadly, this line of thinking places them at a greater risk of developing a dangerous form of skin cancer called melanoma.

Remember–skin cancer does not discriminate. In fact, darker skin people are more likely to die of skin cancer in comparison those with lighter skin because they are not looking for obvious signs (e.g. changes in the skin) and do not take needed precautions to protect their skin.  Medical doctors shoulder some of the responsibility for skin cancer. Skin cancer among people of color is often perpetuated among doctors for three critical reasons; thereby, increasing the risk of skin cancer to advance to later stages.

First, doctors are not thinking about skin cancer when treating this population group.  Second, skin cancer among people of color appears in different locations in comparison to Caucasians. For example, people of color often get skin cancer on the bottom of their feet, palms of the hands, and underneath fingernails and toenails.  Third, dermatologists may have a lack of training in skincare conditions among people of color. In fact, a recent study by Buster et al (2012) showed that more than 47% of dermatologists did not have the proper training to address the skin conditions of African-Americans.

So What Can Be Done to Protect the Skin?

  • Start by using sunscreen that contains SPF 30 or more.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours or right after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Go to a dermatologist when you notice new moles, skin changes, a sore that will not heal, or dark spots under fingernails and toenails, soles and palms.