The Importance of Sun Protection for Skin of Color
If you are Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or have other skin of color, you have more natural protection from the harmful UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays of the sun than people with light skin. And that’s good news! However, having more protection doesn’t make you immune to damage caused by the sun, so protecting your skin this summer and all year ‘round is still the smartest choice.
What Protects Skin of Color from Some of the Sun’s Harmful Effects?
Dark skin naturally produces more of a chemical called melanin which gives your skin color and helps absorb the sun’s damaging UV rays. The darker your skin, the more melanin it contains. While melanin can be helpful in screening out some of the sun’s harmful UV rays, it only offers you a small percentage of protection from the sun. It’s very important that you take additional steps to protect your skin.
What More Should I Be Doing to Be Sun Smart?
- When you’re spending time outdoors, it’s vital to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to your exposed skin every day, no matter your skin color.
There are two types of sunscreens, physical and chemical. Physical (or mineral) sunscreens block the sun’s rays with compounds like zinc oxide. However, these formulas can sometimes appear chalky on individuals of color, or make your skin look ashen. In this case, a chemical sunscreen, which absorbs the sun’s rays, may work best. Chemical sunscreens’ active ingredients may be avobenzone, octinoxate or oxybenzone.
Look for a water-resistant formula to combat sweat and reapply your sunscreen every two hours, (or more often after swimming or activities that cause you to sweat), to maintain protection.
- Protective clothing (like long-sleeved shirts and pants) and a broad-brimmed hat are very important.
- Don’t forget your eyes. Sunglasses should have special UV coatings to protect against the sun’s glaring UV rays.
- Seek shade when you can, especially during the hottest times of the day.
Skin Cancer and Skin of Color
One in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime, making it the most common form of cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that the lifetime risk of getting melanoma, skin cancer’s deadliest form, is 1 in 167 for Hispanics and 1 in 1,000 for African Americans, compared with 1 in 38 for Caucasians and others with fair skin.
However, at a meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers from the University of Cincinnati shared study results showing that dark-skinned people are more likely to die from skin cancer than light-skinned people.
Some of the reasons may include:
- A decreased awareness that dark skin can get skin cancer. By the time those with darker skin are diagnosed, the disease may be in a more advanced state and more difficult to treat
- Sporadic (if any) use of sunscreen and protective clothing. According to an article by Wayne Kuznar in Dermatology Times, “Despite all that is known about the value of sunscreen in protecting from sunburn, premature skin aging, hyperpigmentation, and skin cancer, sunscreen use is low in people with skin of color. Some 62 to 74% of African Americans and 47 to 69% of Hispanics report never or rarely using sunscreens. Use of protective clothing is similarly low in these groups.”
Fewer self exams and annual total-body skin cancer exams for early detection
- Difficulty spotting suspicious lesions (either because of the lack of contrast between the lesion and the skin, or the fact that skin cancers often appear in difficult-to-see areas, such as the hands and lower extremities, including the soles of the feet.
Sun-Related Skin Concerns in Skin of Color is a Priority at Advanced Dermatology
Our dermatologists and other skin cancer experts are leaders in performing thorough annual total-body skin cancer exams on individuals who have darker skin, and also understand the best way to treat those cancers to minimize scarring and other concerns which are more of an issue for those with darker skin.
Exposure to UV rays can cause fine lines, wrinkles and age spots known as photoaging. Diligent use of sunscreen can reduce or delay photoaging in people of color.
Sunscreen also addresses one of the most common dermatologic concerns among those with darker skin — hyperpigmentation (spots of excessive pigmentation). One of the best ways to manage melasma or other hyperpigmentation disorders is with sun protection. Vigilant use of sunscreen can help keep hyperpigmentation in check.
Schedule Your Annual Total-Body Skin Cancer Exam
If you haven’t had a total-body skin cancer exam yet this year, or if you’ve seen changes to a mole or spot on your skin, schedule an appointment online today or by calling 866-400-3376.
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