Dark Skin is Not Immune to Skin Cancer

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: No matter what your skin color, you are still susceptible to the harmful effects of the sun on your skin. There’s a long-standing myth that people of color do not get sunburns or are somehow immune to the sun’s damaging rays. The truth is, while skin cancer occurs less frequently in people of color, it’s actually deadlier. This myth deters people from seeking medical attention or checking their bodies regularly, which leads to a much higher death rate.

Dr. Hugh Gloster of the University of Cincinnati found that after reviewing 50 years of data from medical centers around the world, found that people of color with melanomas almost always find them on the soles of their feet, under the nails, on the palms of their hands, and even inside their mouths—a unique finding specific to dark-skinned people. For comparison, white or fairer-skinned people tend to notice changes on sun exposed areas such as a changing mole or new dark spot.

Perhaps where this myth comes from is the fact that dark-skinned people, who naturally have extra pigment, do have added protection against the sun, which makes them less susceptible to sunburns. The increased epidermal melanin actually does provide some natural SPF, but its only equivalent to about an SPF of 13. When you think about spraying on sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15-30, you can see how this is just not enough protection. That’s why dark-skinned people must take the same precautions as light-skinned people when it comes to skin safety, especially during these hot summer months.

The first step is to create better awareness and myth busting on the topic. The first step is to make it a monthly habit to inspect your body, head to toe. For dark-skinned people, paying special attention to the soles of the feet and palms of the hands is a good place to start. Any skin that feels rough or a new spot is worth noting. Also, it’s imperative that everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, to wear protective clothing, sunscreen, and avoid prolonged exposure to UV rays. When in doubt, schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist at The Derm Group to help identify any potential skin issues. No one is immune from the sun, regardless of what you may have heard.

For any questions, you can always schedule an appointment with The Derm Group by calling 973.571.2121.