It’s a common myth that people with melanated skin do not need to apply sunscreen. Although people with fairer skin may be at higher risk for skin cancer or sunburn, it does not mean those melanin-rich individuals are not susceptible. Wearing SPF has numerous benefits for darker-skinned people, and here is all you need to know.
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What is SPF
We all heard the notion that “good black don’t crack,” which is partially true for deeper melanin-rich people. Some darker skin tones have a natural SPF of 13, and lighter-skinned brown and black tones have about SPF of 3.4. But that still is not enough to combat the harmful effects of the sun. The sun produces UVA and UVB rays that cause sunburn, and SPF 15 is the minimum needed to absorb these rays, but it only blocks about 93%. Without protection, it would take your skin 10 minutes to burn, and with SPF 15, it’d be delayed to 100 minutes. However, SPF 30 is recommended for daily use for complete sun protection.
The Myth Starts with the Medical Field
I’ve discussed the health disparities between black and brown people, many of which begin with unconscious bias among medical professionals. For example, one study noted that 47% of dermatologists and residents admit that they are not adequately trained in black people’s skin conditions. Additionally, a 2018 study reviewed four major medical textbooks only to find that 4.5% of the images contained darker skin. This fuels the ongoing myth and missed educational opportunity to inform melanated people of proper preventative measures for sun exposure.
In addition, other research shows that patients and physicians alike believe that darker skin tones are immune to skin cancer, and when skin cancer is diagnosed, it is more likely to be late-stage. Therefore the cancer is more advanced with a lower survival rate. Skin cancer is preventable, and everyone needs to pay attention. There needs to be a higher focus on research and dermatological education on dark-skinned people for medical professionals.
Melanoma and Dark Skin
Melanoma is the most common and deadly form of skin cancer. Although black and brown people are less likely to develop this form of cancer, they are more likely to have a higher death rate because of miseducation. According to the skin of color society, “nearly 75% of melanomas in people of color are on the palms, soles, mucosal sites (mouth, genitals) and under nails.” Many forms of melanoma in dark-skinned people are found in poorly visible areas, so it is vital to give yourself a self-examination. Look for pigmented bands on the nails and any irregular pigments with this guide:
A – Age range 20-90 years
African-American, Native American, or Asian
B – Band of Brown or Black pigment in nail OR
Breadth of >3mm OR
Border that is irregular/blurred
C – Change in size or growth rate of nail band OR lack of Change in irregular nails despite treatment
D – Digit involved (nail melanoma is most common in the thumb>big toe>index finger)
Pigmented band on a single Digit is more suspicious
Dominant hand involvement is more common
E – Extension of brown or black pigment to the side or base of the nail
F – Family or personal history of melanoma or irregular moles
According to research, there is a 74.1% 5-year melanoma survival rate for blacks compared to 92.9% for whites. Therefore, you must take the necessary action steps by wearing sunscreen to prevent melanoma from developing.
The best sunscreen to use
One misconception about sunscreen is that its use causes it to block vitamin D absorption, but that isn’t true. Regardless if sunscreen is used, the body still absorbs adequate amounts of vitamin D. So sunscreen blocks the wrong stuff while letting the good things in. The FDA recommends products labeled broad spectrum for well-rounded protection.
The best sunscreen for melanated people
Another obstacle to using sunscreen for darker skin is the mineral-based sunscreens with zine and titanium oxide. They tend to cause a white film. In addition, many companies are marketing to fairer-skinned people and lack diversity in their advertising. Companies are now developing sunscreen catered to black and brown people. Two, in particular, are Black Girl Sunscreen and Bolden.
Another sunscreen benefit is its anti-aging properties. Not only does the sun cause skin cancer, but it makes us look older. As an active woman of color, I need a lightweight formula that protects me from sweat and the sun. FRE skincare is perfect for that. Check out their Protect Me daily SPF 30 for the active woman.
Now that you know why you need to wear sunscreen, it is essential to let others know. The more examples we have for others to follow, the quicker we can decrease this health disparity. Therefore, we must add sunscreen protection to our community’s education list.