It’s a common misconception that dark skin does not burn. Along with this misconception comes the belief that people with dark skin don't develop skin cancer -- both beliefs are entirely false. This way of thinking has led to an alarming statistic: dark-skinned individuals are more likely to die from skin cancer than those with fair skin.
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Your skin gets its color from melanin -- a pigment found naturally in the skin. Dark-skinned people, like Native Americans, African Americans, Asians and Hispanics, naturally produce more melanin than light-skinned people. In addition to giving skin its color, melanin also absorbs the ultraviolet rays from the sun, thus offering some sort of protection. In African-American skin, melanin offers a sun protection factor of approximately 13.4; in Caucasians, the melanin SPF factor measures in at about 3.4.
Slather on the Sunscreen
Although darker skin offers some natural sun protection, it may not be enough for a day out in the sun. According to Paula’s Choice, if you have brown, dark brown or black skin, you usually get sunburned after about 2 hours of unprotected sun exposure. While this may be enough to get you through a couple of errands, it’s not enough to protect your skin during a day at the beach. If you have dark skin, slathering on a sunscreen with an SPF factor of 15 ups the amount of time you can safely spend in the sun to 30 hours, while SPF 30 increases sun protection to 60 hours. When applying sunscreen, apply it liberally and cover all areas of your body, including your hands and feet.
In addition to regular sunscreen application, take other measures to protect your skin from the sun. Wear pants and long sleeves when working outside in the sun. Shield your face with wide-brim hats and protect your eyes with sunglasses. Bring umbrellas to the beach and spend some time covered up and out of the sun whenever possible.
In 2009, the “Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology” conducted a survey of 100 subjects of Hispanic, Asian and African-American descent. Of 100 survey participants, 65 believed that they were not at risk for developing skin cancer and admitted to spending time in the sun without proper sun protection. Additionally, many dark-skinned individuals delay going to the dermatologist and don’t have regular skin check-ups. By the time abnormalities are detected, the skin cancer has often developed to a later stage that is more difficult to treat. Dr. Wendy Roberts, the medical director of Desert Dermatology in Rancho Mirage, California, notes that when detected early, skin cancer is highly curable.