MythBuster: "Black people don’t need sunscreen!"


As some of you know I am a native of Florida. It gets super hot here and its hot all year round sometimes. One myth that I can remember as a child as it relates to the sun and black people is: “Black people don’t need sunscreen because our dark skin protects us from sunburn and cancer.” I will be the first to admit that I actually believed this growing up. Don’t ask me where I got this from. LOL! I even remember someone saying that blacks worked in the sun all day long back in the slavery era and they didn’t get skin cancer. Ummmm… who told that lie?

Allow me to bust up this myth for some of you who may still believe this and refuse to put sunblock/sunscreen on yourselves and your children.

Apparently, unlike our Caucasian counterparts, African Americans are least likely to see a dermatologist about skin related issues when moles and rashes appear on the skin. Because of this… it puts people with darker skin complexions at risk for skin cancers. We assume that SPF protection for “white people”, when in fact…. skin cancer is not a disease that only white people get. It’s a disease that anyone with skin can get.

Remember Bob Marley? Well he died of skin cancer.

There are three types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma, which is the least common in African American skin.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma, which can look like a rough, thick, scaly bump, is more common than basal cell carcinoma within darker skin tones and is most frequently found on the legs.
  • Melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and occurs in all skin types. It looks like a dark mole that is irregular in color or shape. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body, but in darker skinned people it is most commonly found on the hands and feet.

According to Heather Woolery-Lloyd, a Miami Dermatologist:

“Melanoma can be cured if caught early, but in later stages it is very serious and difficult to treat. Unfortunately, due to the lack of screening, patients with skin of color often are diagnosed with advanced stage melanoma. In one study, investigators found that, of patients with melanoma, 18% of Hispanics and 26% of African Americans presented with advanced stage melanoma. This is compared to only 12% of white patients.
This delay in melanoma detection also contributes to lower melanoma survival rates in people with skin of color. In another study, the five-year survival rate in African-Americans was 58.8% compared with 84.8% in white people.”

It is true that individuals with darker skin rarely get sunburned due to the melanin in the skin. Melanin is pigment in the skin that determines skin color. People with more melanin are darker than others with less melanin. Melanin absorbs UV and thus is a natural sunscreen but protection from harmful UVA/UVB rays are still a necessity.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the Unites States. Known risk factors for skin cancer include the following:

  • Complexion: Skin cancers are more common in people with light-colored skin, hair, and eyes.
  • Genetics: Having a family history of melanoma increases the risk of developing this cancer.
  • Age: Non melanoma skin cancers are more common after age 40.
  • Sun exposure and sunburn: Most skin cancers occur on areas of the skin that are regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation. This is considered the primary cause of all skin cancers.

Skin cancer can develop in anyone, not only people with these risk factors. Young, healthy people — even those with with dark skin, hair, and eyes — can develop skin cancer.

SPF Protection
SPF means Sun Protection Factor. The amount of SPF protection a person needs depends greatly on the nature of the activity he will be engaged in, as well as the weather, the time of day, time of year, and the person’s location. Generally, the amount of time it takes for a person’s skin to be sun-burned is multiplied by the SPF number of the sunscreen he or she uses. 
Here’s an example: If your skin typically starts to turn red after ten minutes of exposure to direct sunlight, a sunscreen with an SPF number of 15 would ideally increase that time to 150 minutes. The are numerous factors that can change the SPF number. Sunscreen wears off when a person sweats, or comes into contact with water, such as when swimming, unless they are using a waterproof sunscreen.

Like any disease or cancer early detection is key in fighting and curing the disease. If you discover any new or unusual moles of skin rashes of any kind you should see your doctor or dermatologist to have them screened. Also, you should pay attention to your children’s skin and check for any irregularities.

Skin Cancer is curable and the need for proper education and skin cancer screenings is crucial. people of color need to be aware. Education and awareness will ensure that the African American and Hispanic community doesn’t fall victim to a very preventable disease. Make sure that you are taking the proper precautions while you are out in the sun for extended periods of time. Stock up on your SPF!

One thought on “MythBuster: "Black people don’t need sunscreen!"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Capitalist would sell sand to saharans if they could.If ur black and burning from the sun, it's not bc Africans can get skin cancer but because europeans and asiatics do and u have a significant amount of their blood. If, like me, ur diasporic but can be in Ghana without standing out then u don't need to worry about the sun.

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