Jul 31, 2020   Skin 101

Melanin and Skin Cancer: Busting the Sun Protection Myth

Author by : Natacha Paugam

I consider myself blessed to have been brought up to take care of my skin. My mother created various recipes from the land in Africa: The Baoab, hibiscus flowers, aloe vera and more. But more on all that later. What I wish to talk about today is this topic that perplexes me: Do melanin women need sun protection. Oh my God. Of course we do, ladies!


This is what I discovered recently though: the  medical community has historically given less-than-adequate attention and care to people of color, and the field of dermatology is no exception.


There is overwhelming evidence that black and other people of color are susceptible to skin cancer caused by sun exposure. We touched on this in a previous article on Skin Cancer in People of Color.

Yes, the myth that skin of color has natural protection from sun damage persists. Let's spread the word about this together already!


More Science:


Research has shown that doctors are less likely to prescribe sunscreen to black people after ER visits, and dermatologists are more likely to overlook sun lesions and other warning signs in skin of color people.

Discoloration is another concern for many people of color.

It can be caused by various factors including acne, eczema, or inflammation, according to Cheryl M. Burgess, MD, FAAD, medical director at the Center for Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery in Washington, D.C.

Lightening creams are often used to address this issue, but they leave the skin more sensitive to sunlight, which can lead to further damage and increase the risk of skin cancer.

Burgess recommends using these products at night in order to minimize this side effect.

Should People of Color Wear Sunscreen?


The short answer — yes.
Unfortunately, decades of misinformation have perpetuated the myth that melanin-rich skin has natural protection from the sun, leaving sunscreen unnecessary for people of color.

According to Burgess, if the skin on your face, arms, and other parts of your body is darker than, say, your buttocks or breasts, you have chronic sun damage, which increases your chances of developing skin cancer. 

She reminds her patients that Bob Marley died of a malignant melanoma on his toe that he, at first, thought was a bruise.

This real-life example helps people understand the importance of protecting their skin from the sun.

Letstalkmelanin - Melanin and skin cancer

Protecting Skin of Color From Sun Damage

While skin cancer may be less prevalent among people of color than the white population, it is likely to be diagnosed later, at a more advanced stage.

This leads to black people dying at a rate 1.5 times higher than white patients with a similar diagnosis.

The bottom line? Skin of color is not immune to skin cancer.
People of color should protect their skin from sun damage all year round, as well as getting checked as soon as they notice anything suspicious.

Don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion if you feel your doctor is not taking your case seriously.

Sunscreen for Black Skin

Fortunately, there are now numerous sun protection products designed to protect skin of color. 

Here is a roundup of the best sunscreens for black people.

Additionally, you can protect your skin from the sun using hats and clothing. Not all clothes offer equal protection — darker colors are more protective than lighter ones, and the more light you can see through a fabric, the less protection it offers.
Skin cancer in people of color is avoidable, and using sun protection year-round can reduce the rate of preventable deaths from the disease.

The field of medicine has misled people of color for too long — it's time to spread the word to help protect our skin and our communities.

What are your thoughts on sun protection for skin of color? Let me know in the comments.

And don't forget to share this post with the people in your life who need it!

Would you like to share what you've found in your skin sleuthing days?
Here are a few shared with us this week:

Melanin is Amazing but I Need Sunscreen?

5 Melanin-Rich Skin Challenges to Pay Attention To