Do People of Color Need Sunscreen? | UNC Health Talk

Dark skin doesn’t need sunscreen, right? wrong. It’s a common but mistaken belief that having more melanin, the biological pigment in the skin that determines its tone, protects darker-skinned people from the sun.

But people with dark skin tones, of any race or ethnicity, are still susceptible to sun damage, including sunburn, hyperpigmentation, skin cancer, and premature aging.

Reading: Do black people need sunscreen

“Melanin is thought to have an SPF of 4, so that’s not enough to protect you from the sun,” says UNC Health Dermatologist Priyanka Vedak, MD.

how the sun damages skin, even the darkest skin

Sun damage can happen regardless of your skin tone. UV rays from the sun cause cell damage to the skin. every time you get a sunburn, it’s a sign of damage to your dna. the greater your exposure to the sun, the greater your risk of damage.

Darker skin may not show visible signs of sun damage as easily, but it still happens. In a UK-based survey of people of African descent, 52.2% reported a history of sunburn.

“While it may be more difficult to notice redness in sunburned skin on darker skin tones, patients will still frequently experience warmth, increased skin sensitivity, tightness, and itchiness,” says Dr. dr vedak ​​says.

Sun damage can also cause hyperpigmentation, in which areas of the skin become darker than the surrounding normal skin. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin produces too much melanin after it has been irritated or injured, such as by the sun.

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“Excessive sun exposure can worsen skin conditions that result in hyperpigmentation, and many patients with darker skin types visit a dermatologist due to concerns about skin pigmentation changes,” says Dr. dr vedak ​​says.

Topical creams, gels, or a visit to a dermatologist can help treat hyperpigmentation, but sometimes the condition is permanent.

Finally, excess sun exposure leads to photoaging, which is premature skin aging that tends to worsen over time due to chronic sun exposure. this can happen on all skin tones. photoaging manifests as fine lines, wrinkles, changes in skin texture, and benign lesions.

how skin cancer occurs

In short, if you have skin, you can develop skin cancer. there are three types: basal cell, squamous, and melanoma, which is the most serious.

“basal and squamous cell skin cancers often look like non-healing lesions that can be painful, grow quickly, or bleed easily,” says dr. says vedak. “As for acral melanoma, the most common type of melanoma in darker skin tones, the lesions can be determined by their color, size, and development over time.”

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the estimated five-year melanoma survival rate for black patients is only 71%, compared to 93% for white patients. black patients are three times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma at a later stage than non-Hispanic white patients. this could be due to lack of awareness and socioeconomic factors such as barriers to care. in the past two decades, the incidence of melanoma has increased 20% among Hispanics.

With this in mind, it’s critical that people of color increase their knowledge of skin cancer prevention strategies, including skin self-examination, protection from UV exposure, and starting a conversation with a doctor care provider or a dermatologist to see how often they should be screened for skin cancer.

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“There are no universal guidelines on the frequency of skin cancer screening. it’s helpful to have a baseline skin exam with a dermatologist to determine how often you should be seen,” says dr. vedak ​​says.

how people of color can protect their skin

Because skin cancer can result from the long-term effects of sun damage, it’s important to protect your skin throughout your life, dr. says vedak. here’s how.

1. wear sunscreen.

everyone, even those with darker skin, should wear sunscreen every day. Wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays can help lower your risk of skin cancer. Sunscreen also helps prevent hyperpigmentation and premature aging of the skin, including wrinkles, sagging, and age spots. dr vedak ​​recommends spf 30 or higher.

“Using tinted sunscreen with iron oxide may be beneficial for skin of colour, as it protects against the visible light spectrum, and the visible light spectrum plays a role in the skin disease of pigmentation . there are also several clear sunscreens that don’t leave an ashy residue on the skin,” says dr. vedak ​​says.

2. wear sun-protective clothing.

When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants or skirts to protect your skin from ultraviolet rays. Hats are a great way to protect your head, face, and eyes. make sure the hat has a brim around it that shades the face, ears, and back of the neck. Stay in the shade as much as possible, especially when the sun’s rays are hottest, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. m. and 4 p.m. m.

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3. schedule a visit with a dermatologist.

If you notice anything new, changing, or unusual about your skin, make an appointment with a dermatologist. Even before then, a head-to-toe skin check will give your dermatologist a baseline for your skin and help develop a plan for any necessary treatment or prevention strategies.

Ask your doctor about a head-to-toe skin check to look for signs of skin damage or cancer. do you need a doctor? find one near you.

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