Why Sunscreen Is Important for Women of Color

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • As a women of color, you may have been taught, or assumed, that you don’t need to wear sunscreen. After all, your skin doesn’t burn. You may believe that you aren’t at risk of developing skin cancer and protection from the sun is only for those that are. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. It’s true your risk for developing skin cancer is less than that of Caucasians, but there is still a risk. In a post on Health Central’s Skin Cancer site, I wrote, “According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, only 59 percent of people with skin of color survive for five years after being diagnosed withmelanoma, as compared to 85 percent of Caucasians. This is thought to be because melanoma and other forms of skin cancer are not diagnosed as early in people of color and the cancer is more advanced when it is diagnosed. Dr. Perry Robins, President of the Skin Cancer Foundation states, ‘While there is no question that people of color are less likely to become afflicted with skin cancer, they are much more likely to die from it due to a delay in detection.’” [1]

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    Our skin cells produce melanin, the more of this the darker your skin. And melanin helps protect you from the sun’s UV rays. For African Americans, the average amount of melanin in the skin is equivalent to an SPF of 13.4, certainly more protection than white skin with an average SPF of 3.4, but not as much protection as is recommended - SPF of 30 or higher - to protect against skin cancer. [2]


    Skin cancer isn’t the only reason to protect yourself against the sun’s UV rays:


    Premature Aging - Even without a sunburn, exposure to the sun causes premature aging. While our skin tone, elasticity and thickness naturally changes over time, sun exposure can cause these changes to occur prematurely. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states premature aging from the sun “can make the skin become thick, wrinkled and leathery...However, up to 90 percent of the visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. With proper protection...most premature aging of the skin can be avoided.” [3]


    Cataracts - Exposure to UV radiation from the sun has been associated with a higher risk of developing certain types of cataracts. Although treatable with surgery, many people have diminished vision because of them.


    Darkening Spots - Some women of color have problems with dark spots on their face. This can happen from acne or injuries on the skin. As it heals, it becomes darker than the rest of your complexion. Sun exposure can make these areas even darker and more noticeable.


    How to Protect Yourself

    • Wear sunscreen on a daily basis, even during the winter months. An SPF of 30 or more is recommended. Look for sunscreen that provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
    • Reduce the amount of time you spend in the sun between the hours of 10;00 AM and 4:00 PM.
    • Wear wide brimmed hats, long sleeves, pants and sunglasses if you must be in the sun during the middle of the day.
    • Pay attention to any new spots or moles or if a mole has changed in shape, size or color.
    • If you notice changes, see a dermatologist right away. Plan an annual skin exam with a dermatologist and perform a self-check on a monthly basis.


  • References:

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    [3] “Health Effects of Overexposure to the Sun,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


    [1] "Melanoma and Skin of Color," 2009, January 29, Staff Writer, Skin Cancer Foundation


    [2] “Skin Cancer and Skin of Color,” Date Unknown, Mona Gohara, M.D., Maritza Perez, M.D., Skin Cancer Foundation


    [1] “Skin Cancer and Skin of Color,” 2012, Jan. 24, Eileen Bailey, Skin Cancer on HealthCentral.com http://www.healthcentral.com/skin-cancer/c/1443/149629/cancer-color

Published On: March 14, 2013