While it is true that people with darker skin tones have more natural protection from the sun’s rays than lighter-skinned people, everyone can be affected by the sun’s harmful rays. So contrary to the common myth, African Americans can get sunburn and are at higher risk for skin cancer.
Because of a high level of melanin, which gives the skin color, African Americans have a natural skin protection factor (SPF) of up to 13 and filter twice as much UV radiation as fair-skinned people. But confusion still exists about Black people and the effects of the sun.
That’s why The Wellness Plan and dermatologists are working to educate patients about the dangers of UV rays and dispel myths. In July, during UV Safety Awareness Month, The Wellness Plan doled out sunscreen, sunglasses, and information to make patients more aware of the importance of sun protection.
“We are misinformed as a community because we believe that we don’t necessarily need protection from the sun,” says Trevae Cain, the community outreach and enrollment specialist for The Wellness Plan.
“We don’t view the sun as harmful to us, but in actuality, prolonged sun exposure to sunlight can, in some cases, cause harm to our skin.”
Regardless of skin color, health experts advise everyone to use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Although dark-skinned people won’t get sunburned as quickly, they will still burn and are susceptible to sun-induced damage—such as sun spots, uneven skin tone, wrinkles—and cancer.
At a meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers from the University of Cincinnati (UC) presented results showing that dark-skinned people are more likely to die from skin cancer than light-skinned people.
The study’s lead author pointed out that the commonly held belief that people with darker skin won’t get sunburned or get skin cancer gives such people a false sense of security. Other research has shown that Black people are four times more likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage melanoma and have a 1.5 times higher rate than their white counterparts.
They also are less likely to take preventative measures, such as wearing sunscreen and routinely checking for signs of skin cancer. As a result, when dark-skinned people are diagnosed with skin cancer, the disease may be in an advanced stage and more difficult to treat.
Although fewer people with dark skin get skin cancer, the death rate for dark-skinned people with skin cancer is higher than for light-skinned people (who technically are at greater risk of developing skin cancer). Increasing awareness of the importance of sunscreen and routine skin checks for people of all skin types is integral to skin cancer prevention.
Cain, who helps The Wellness Plan members with Medicaid applications and manages outreach events, said she had experienced sunspots, a form of sun damage.
Black people also can be at risk for other skin problems without sun protection. Our eyes also can be injured by sunlight exposure damage, so sunglasses with UV protection aren’t just for fashion; they’re for protection.
Additionally, Cain said, eczema also is a health condition affecting the immune system that can flare up after sun exposure, and sun allergies can be a threat.
“Sunscreen gives you the protection you need but doesn’t block the important Vitamin D absorption,” Cain. “It’s so important to remember that.”
The Wellness Plan offers education and information on other health matters for patients. To become a patient, call 313-875-4200.
Although dark skin is naturally more protective against harmful rays from the sun than fair skin, people of all skin types can burn if they don’t wear sunscreen. The burn may not be as apparent on dark skin, but this does not mean it is harmless. Everyone must take preventative measures against sunburn and skin cancer, and no one should consider themselves immune to sunburns and skin cancer!