Written by: Ayesha Khan, MBBS
In a Nutshell
- Sunscreen use among Black people is extremely low due to several misconceptions
- Although, the incidence of skin cancer is low in Black community, the prognosis and outcomes are worse compared to other races
- Sunscreen use protects against sagging, premature aging, hyperpigmentation, photo damage in addition to minimizing the risk of skin cancer.
Do you know that black community is 9 times less likely to be prescribed or advised to wear a sunscreen after an ER visit compared to whites? It has also been observed that most sunscreen products available in the market today are designed considering the needs and preferences of non-Black community. Commercial advertising efforts to promote sunscreen products focuses on non-Black community. Part of this disparity is attributed to overall low use of sunscreen among black community due to several myths and misconceptions.
Popular Myths and Misconceptions surrounding Black Community and Sunscreen Use
- Blacks are immune to skin cancer: Statistically, it has been reported that a lot of black people do not wear sunscreen due to popular misconception that Black people are “immune” to skin cancer and other skin conditions. It is a fact that the incidence of skin cancer among Black community is fairly low but nonetheless, Black people are not immune. Melanin or skin pigments are believed to provide protection of SPF-13, which may block some UV light but is not sufficient to garner complete protection against harmful UV rays or to protect against skin cancer.
- Impaired absorption and conversion of Vitamin D: Deficiency of Vitamin D is twice as prevalent in black community than any other race. It is a popular misconception that use of sunscreen can further block the absorption of sunlight in Black people, making Vitamin D deficiency worse, which is not true. Even with sunscreen, ample sunlight can be absorbed by skin as the only goal of sunscreen is to block harmful UV light.
Verdict - Do Black people need to wear sunscreen?
Here is why Black people should absolutely wear sunscreen when going outdoors.
Uneven Melanin/ Pigment Distribution:
Even if Melanin (skin pigment) blocks some UV light, it is important to keep in mind that the distribution of melanin is uneven in our body and among different individuals. Therefore, every individual should wear SPF-30 sunscreen when spending time outdoors.
Poor prognosis of skin cancers among black people
- Most cases of skin cancer among black people are diagnosed at advanced stage and with poor prognosis
- The risk of developing advance stage melanoma is 4 times higher in black community than in whites
- Black people are 1.5 times more likely to die from advanced skin melanoma than whites
Increased sensitivity to UV light with certain diseases
Although, the incidence of skin cancer is low among Black people, the prevalence of diseases like lupus and high blood pressure is fairly high among black community. It is noteworthy that diseases like lupus increases the sensitivity of skin to sun, making such individuals more exposed to UV light from sun. Likewise, most blood pressure medications can also make your skin more sensitive to UV light, thereby increasing the risk of skin damage from UV light.
According to data reported by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 30% women and 15% men wear sunscreen regularly, which is alarming considering each year about 5.1 million Americans are treated for skin cancer. Every individual should wear sunscreen when spending time outdoors. It is important to use sunscreen on all exposed parts of your skin and not just the face. In addition:
- Limit your time outdoors in bright sun.
- Wear protective clothing or stay under shade if sun is too bright
Strength of Evidence:A
The inferences drawn in this article are based of extensive data and statistics reported in peer reviewed journals and clinical trials.
Annual cost of morbidity and mortality caused by skin cancer exceeds $8.1 billion in the United States. Experts believe that regular use of sunscreen in outdoors can decrease the risk of developing skin cancer. Unfortunately, sunscreen use is not common among black community due to several myths and misconceptions. There are clear benefits for black people to use sunscreen regularly before going outdoors.
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- CDC - Sunscreen use
- NY Times - Black skin and sunscreen
- Consumer Reports - Dark skin need for sunscreen