The summer is finally upon us. The closer we get to the end of the summer, the hotter it feels outside. No longer is it in-between jacket weather; it is undeniably sunny summer weather. During this time of year, it is very common to hear phrases like, “Don’t forget your sunscreen.” But what does that sentence mean for a person of color? Growing up as a Black woman, this bit of sun advice was almost always met with skepticism and regarded as sometimes irrelevant due to my beliefs about sun safety and the Black community.
During this time of year it is also common to hear statements like “You’ll be okay” if you don’t remember your sunscreen, or there simply isn’t even a conversation about buying or using sunscreen. Statements like the former or lack thereof are partially due to the myths surrounding this topic, such as the myth that people of color don’t need to use sunscreen or that people of color don’t get sunburned. Actually, the amount of melanin or dark pigmentation in skin serves as an inherent protector against the sun’s rays. However, instead of turning red, darker skinned people tend to turn darker brown.
Below are some fast facts about sun safety and people of color:
Risk of Skin Cancer
• African American skin has been found to have an inherent sun protective factor (SPF) of about 13.4 in comparison to 3.4 in white skin. This factor contributes to the fact that skin cancer is diagnosed less often in African Americans, as well as in Asians and Latinos, than in whites. However, when skin cancer is diagnosed in people of color it tends to be within the later stages of skin cancer, which makes mortality rates disproportionately higher.
• Melanoma is often found in places of the skin that are less often exposed and have less pigmentation. For African Americans, Asians, Filipinos, Indonesians, and native Hawaiians, 60-75 percent of tumors related to melanoma have been found on the palms, soles, mucous membranes and nail regions.
• Risk factors in minorities for melanoma other than the sun include: burn scars, albinism, trauma, preexisting moles, radiation therapy and immunosuppression.
• The FDA has suggested that brands that promise very high SPF levels such as 50+ have been found to be misleading and the high level of SPF is not necessary.
• Vitamin A in sunscreen can lead to development of tumors when in the sun. Instead, look for sunscreens that contain zinc, titanium dioxide, avobenzone or Mexoryl S.
• Choosing an SPF level can be difficult. Darker skin does not require the highest level of SPF. Regardless of skin tone, an SPF of 15 at minimum is suggested, reapplying every 2 hours when in direct sun.
So before basking in the sun’s glory, be sure to grab your sunscreen — regardless of your skin tone!