For those who feels that being dark-skinned will exempt them from sun damage, then think again. UV rays can affect your skin type and tone regardless of your ethnicity. While the risk of skin cancer affects black Americans at a significantly lower rate, this doesn't mean they are not at risk. According to the American Cancer Society, annual incidences of melanoma are 1 in 100,000 for black Americans (compared with 5 in 100,000 for Hispanics and 26 in 100,000 for Caucasians).
Melanin is more abundant in people with darker skin tones. This pigment gives darker skin its color
and acts as a natural barrier by filtering out damaging UV rays. What you may not know that darker skin tones contain a built-in SPF of up to 13, which filters out twice as much UV than people of fair-skinned ethnicities. But according Dr. Meena Singh of the Kansas Medical Clinic, melanin may be ineffective of protecting the skin from UVA rays.
With that said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute reported in a 2014 study that 13 percent of black Americans had experienced a sunburn during the past year. Even though redness is a definite sign of UV damage, it is not visibly apparent on darker skin. The symptoms that are felt are usually tightness, pain in the area, and skin that is hot to the touch.
SPF is a rating system that compares the amount of time it takes for the skin to burn when unprotected to the amount of time it will take to burn when it is protected by sunscreen. For example, if an individual’s skin starts to turn red after being exposed in the sun for 10 minutes unprotected, using an SPF of 15 will protect the skin from burning for at least 100 to 150 minutes longer. An SPF of 15 will deflect 93% of UV rays.
Prolonged Time in the Sun Will Age The Skin
Melanin increases in response to the sun’s rays and the skin will become darker as a result. This is actually the first sign of sun damage that will eventually make the skin look older.
Jeanine Downie, M.D., a private practicing dermatologist in Montclair, New Jersey, states that “Photodamage in people of color will lead to loss of volume from the face, sagging of the skin, and hyperpigmentation. While people with lighter skin tones tend to see fine lines and wrinkles show up first, people of color will see changes in pigmentation that lead to dark patches and uneven skin tone.”
Finding Sunscreen Protection
Experts at the American Academy of Dermatology advises to apply a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapplying every two hours immediately after heavy sweating or swimming. It is unfortunate that most sunscreen formulas are white, thick, and pasty - none of which blends with darker skin tones. Even though it may require testing out different brands, look for formulas that are sheer and offers a liquid consistency for the best results.
Check For Unusual Skin Changes
Even though melanoma occurs less frequently with black Americans, the mortality rate is high for those living with the disease. The reason for this is partly due to the cancer being diagnosed in the latter stages when it is more advanced and difficult to treat. The other component is that the early signs will often go undetected. The belief that darker skin tones cannot get cancer or does not get sunburned translates into not taking preventative measures such as checkups or wearing sunscreen at all.
While skin cancer normally occur in areas that get the most UV exposure, uncommon areas for black people include the palms of the hands, the bottoms of the feet, or underneath the fingernails or toenails (Bob Marley died from melanoma that began under his toenail).
Dermatologists warns that skin changes such as a new mole/spot or one that changes or grows, a patch of skin that change color, or a scab that doesn't heal should get checked as soon as possible.
Increasing awareness of having routine skin checkups and the importance for applying sunscreen are important factors of preventing sunburn and decreasing the risk of skin cancer. No person should render themselves as exempt.
Valerie lives in New York. As a health advocate, she shares tips and steps on maximizing nutrition, weight and fitness goals to help others embrace a healthier lifestyle. She blogs at Halfmile Fitness.