African-Americans and Sunburn

Over the years, a variety of skin cancer myths have permeated throughout the community. One of the most common myths is that if you are very tan it is impossible for you to burn. An even more common and possibly more dangerous – myth is that people of African descent with very dark skin cannot sun burn. This is a commonly held belief throughout the country, including within the African American community.

Unfortunately, this belief is extremely false. No matter how dark your skin is naturally, you always have the ability to sunburn, and your risk of sun damage is still the same.

Black Americans and Skin Cancer

One of the most common myths is that those with dark skin cannot get skin cancer. This cannot be further from the truth. In fact, African Americans are MORE likely to get melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer – than White Americans.

African Americans are at least risk for some of the lesser forms of skin cancer. Darker skin reduces the likelihood of basal cell carcinoma, for example. But these are also the least deadly forms of cancer. In terms of the most dangerous cancers, African Americans appear to be at greater risk for skin cancer deaths.

Cancer risk is exacerbated because it can be difficult to see any serious skin cancer blemishes until they have reached a late stage of skin cancer. As a result, skin cancers are not being caught in African Americans until it they have become incredibly dangerous.

Black Americans and Burning

In addition, African Americans have the ability to sunburn as well. It is widely believed that darker skin prevents burning. In some cases this is true – darker skin does reduce your likelihood of burning, and those with fair skin are likely to sunburn faster than those with dark skin.

However, it does not reduce burning risk completely. African Americans are still at a great risk for burning, especially with long term sun exposure. African Americans also burn differently. While someone with fair skin gets redder when they burn, someone with dark skin simply gets darker. This is one of the reasons that the myth persists – because African Americans do not burn with the typical “red” color that affects White Americans, it gives the appearance that Black Americans never sunburn. Yet sunburns are actually quite common, they simply appear in a different manner.

Combatting These Myths

It is very important for the African American community to combat these myths and recognize their burning and cancer risk. Men and women of all ethnic backgrounds are at risk for sun cancer and burning. Sunscreen of a moderate SPF (SPF 15 will usually suffice) should always be placed on the skin during times of extensive sun exposure, no matter what the color of your skin.

Darker skinned individuals of all races may be at less risk for burning, but burning is still a possibility, and the sun damage you receive can be equally as dangerous. Make sure that you protect yourself any time you spend an extended period of time outdoors, and check your skin regularly to make sure that you are free of any worrisome changes.