Do People of Color need sunscreen?
Many people believe that having brown skin means you don’t need to protect it from the sun. But is that really true?
It is a popular misconception that people of color such as Latino or African Americans do not need to use sunscreen.
According to Dr. Marshelya D. Wilson, MD, many people believe that the melanin in darker skin tones provides adequate protection against the sun’s rays, but that is only partially true. She advises “Melanin does provide protection but only minimally…Ultraviolet rays still have the potential to damage skin and lead to often-undiagnosed skin cancers. African Americans do need to protect their skin with sunscreen, at least SPF 30.” What she is referring to is a type of melanin found in dark and olive skin tones called Eumelanin. Eumelanin is able to absorb UV rays as they enter the skin. The darker the skin’s complexion, the more eumelanin is contained in the skin and the less UV is able to penetrate the epidermis. However, this minimal protection is typically only about an SPF of 15.
Although sunburns are often associated with Caucasian people, even people with dark skin tones need to be proactive about skin safety. While it’s true that fair-skinned people may get sunburns easier, non-Caucasian women are still at risk of the sun’s harmful UV rays. A recent survey of African Americans, conducted by the Skin Cancer Foundation, found that more than 60% of participants regularly do not wear sunscreen!
So what can you do to protect your darker skin?
First and foremost, always wear sunscreen. Every. Single. Day.
Wearing sunscreen every day is a must for everyone, regardless of skin tone. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone, regardless of race or skin tone, should use a sunscreen with an SPF value of 30 or higher every day that provides broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays). Always apply your sunscreen about 20 to 30 minutes before going outside, using enough to cover your any skin that will be exposed to sunlight (typically about 2 ounces, or about the amount it would take to fill a shot glass). It’s also important that you reapply your sunscreen at least once every two hours and more often if you will be swimming or sweating (even with products that say they won’t sweat off).
In addition to using sunscreen everyday, you can also choose to stay out of the sun when its rays are at their strongest. The FDA suggests limiting your time in the sun during the sun’s peak hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They also suggest covering skin exposed to the sun with clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and broad-brimmed hats.
Lastly, and very importantly, commit to performing self exams of your skin on a regular basis. The Skin Cancer Foundation published a 2016 study that found that melanomas are often discovered much later and are often more fatal in people of color. By conducting your own self exams, you can avoid a late diagnosis and improve your chances of catching potential skin cancers before they become a life sentence. All you need is a mirror! Look for dark spots or patches of skin that seem to be getting larger, sores that won’t heal, and dark lines underneath or near your finger- and toenails. Skin cancer can show up in the most unexpected places, so be sure to check your entire body, document any changes and follow up with a dermatologist.