The Exchange

Commentary and Observations from
the Medical Front Lines

Sunscreen in Skin of Color

Sunscreen in Skin of Color

We are well aware that ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can damage the DNA in our skin cells, which can lead to premature aging and skin cancer. Skin cancer in particular is quite prevalent in the US, with more than 9500 people being diagnosed with skin cancer daily. By the age of 70, about 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer. However, a common myth is that darker-skinned individuals are not susceptible to skin damage and skin cancers from UV rays. This myth has a great hold in our society: Several studies show that minority populations with darker skin, particularly Hispanics and Blacks, are not regularly applying sunscreen or taking other actions to prevent sun damage.

While true that dark-skinned individuals have slightly less risk due to higher levels of melanin in their skin, this can only provide a natural sun protection factor (SPF) of up to 13. Though these individuals can filter more UV rays and may not burn as quickly as those with fair skin, it doesn't replace the need for sunscreen.

Currently, skin cancer incidence is highest among non-Hispanic Whites. Statistics show that 1% to 2% of all skin cancers occur in Blacks, 2% to 4% occur in Asians, and 4% to 5% in Hispanics, with squamous cell carcinoma being the most common skin cancer in darker skin. Though prevalence of skin cancer may be low in minority populations, these individuals are often diagnosed with more advanced stage skin cancers and are more likely to experience poor outcomes than their White counterparts. Regardless of skin tone, most skin cancers are preventable with consistent use of effective sun protection strategies, including application of broad-spectrum sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, seeking shade, and avoiding indoor tanning. All patients should be advised that the American Academy of Dermatology suggests using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 (but higher is better), and to make sure to reapply every 2 hours if out in the sun.

References

Filed under: Dermatology, Public Health

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