By Monique Gooch
Do Black people really need to wear sunscreen? Short answer. Yes. Even if you Google the question, the answer will always be, yes. Whether you have a great deal of melanin or not, sunscreen is an absolute necessity.
The lack of awareness about the importance of sunscreen doesn’t originate in the Black community. The medical community has had a major historical role for not providing Black people adequate medical care, especially in dermatology.
Aleta Simmons, M.D. in Nashville, TN, said, “Sun protection in the form of chemical or physical sunscreen, shade, and sun protective clothing is important for Black people for several reasons. Our skin is susceptible to sunburn.” Simmons said this varies person to person.
“Blistering sunburns increase the risk of developing skin cancers, particularly melanoma. The sun ages the skin which leads to loss of elasticity (causes sagging skin), sun spots, wrinkling, and more. In certain medical conditions such as lupus which affects Black people, daily sunscreen application aids in decreasing the development of related rashes due to sun exposure. Sunscreen is the first line of defense for melasma and hyperpigmentation that Black people are prone to developing.”
As far as getting the right sunscreen, Simmons recommended sunscreen with at least spf 30. “I tell my patients to purchase sunscreen they will use. There are many formulations on the market. Find one that feels good on your skin. For patients with hyperpigmentation or melasma, sunscreens with iron oxide are best. If you cannot locate one with iron oxide, zinc or titanium based physical blockers are recommended. Physical blockers can leave a chalky residue.” Simmons suggested trying before you buy. “Tinted sunscreens can combat the white appearance as well.”
In the Black community, there is an old saying that Black Don’t Burn. This is an absolute myth, said Simmons who has practiced in Nashville for four years. “In dermatology we base skin type on several factors and the way your skin reacts to the sun is one of them. Black people are susceptible to sunburns.”
When asked what percentage of skin cancer patients are people of color, Simmons said, skin cancer is not as common. “There are three main types of skin cancers including basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma skin cancer. Squamous cell skin cancer is the most common skin cancer that affects Black people out of these.” She said Black people are less likely to develop melanoma, but when Black people do, the outcomes are worse. “Black people typically develop skin cancer on the hands, feet and nails. This is called acral lentiginous melanoma. Early detection and treatment are important.”
Simmons said she speaks, writes, and does workshops through her company, Get the Skin-E.
As reported by Healthline, Chesahna Kindred, M.D., vice chair of the National Medical Association dermatology section, acknowledges that Black skin is not given the same attention as white skin. She tells Healthline, “[A lot of the] funding and awareness [for research on the effect of the sun] typically excludes those with darker skin tones.” According to a 2012 Trusted Source report, 47 percent of dermatologists and dermatology residents don’t have adequate training on Black skin conditions.
According to a 2014 study, Black people receive sunscreen roughly nine times less often than their white counterparts following ER visits. Doctors still advise Black people to use sunscreen less than their white counterparts, even in cases of pigment-related skin diseases. According to Trusted Source, Black individuals are less likely than other skin types to receive combination therapy in cases of dyschromia, a skin pigmentation disorder.
In addition, a 2011 study found that dermatological clinicians often show less suspicion about sun lesions and other causes of alarm in Black patients as compared to white patients. Non-white people are often mistakenly believed to be “immune” to common skin cancers, according to research.
Simmons suggested wearing wide-brimmed hats, and protective clothing for protection from the sun. “While outside, reapply [sunscreen] every two hours. If you are swimming or sweating, reapply more often as the water washes off the sunscreen.” She also suggested if you are concerned about a new or changing spot on your body, see a board-certified dermatologist for evaluation.