Smear it on.
It’s time to hit the outdoors and while you’re ready to head out, your pale-skinned friends are slathering on sunscreen. What’s their deal? You feel blessed because you’ve never gotten a sunburn. People of color don’t need to wear sunscreen—right?
You might think you don’t need sunscreen because you have all that extra melanin, but this is a myth. Skin cancer can affect people of all skin tones! (Here are other sunscreen myths to know about it.)
How Sun Exposure Affects People of Color
It’s true that skin cancer predominantly affects people with fair skin tones. However, when people with brown and black skin do get skin cancer, they’re more likely to be diagnosed at a later, more advanced stage. This is a problem because skin cancer is often easily treatable by surgery during early stages. At later stages, it can be harder to treat successfully.
One of the reasons people of color may find skin cancer at a later stage is because they underestimate their risk. If you don’t realize you can get skin cancer, you’ll be less likely to monitor for symptoms and get regular skin exams by a dermatologist.
The Importance of Wearing Sunscreen
It is important to lather up every time you step outside—regardless of your skin tone. Most adults need about one ounce of sunscreen to cover their entire body. That’s equivalent to about half an espresso cup.
Here are some things to look for when shopping for sunscreen:
- Make sure it is “broad-spectrum,” which means it protects against the different types of ultraviolet rays
- It should be at least SPF 30
- Check that it’s water resistant
Remember to apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. Reapply it every two hours or after you go for a swim or break a sweat. Here are more tips for applying sunscreen here.
You can also wear clothes and accessories that help shield you from the sun’s rays like:
- Wide-brimmed hats
- Wrap-around sunglasses
- Rash guards (for the beach)
- Long-sleeved shirts
Prevention is Key
In addition to taking care of your skin when you go outside, you should also make it a habit to check for changes in your skin. Monitor for signs of skin cancer by giving yourself a skin self-exam and by going to your dermatologist regularly. It’s easy to let things slide, but these habits can be the key in catching any concerns early. Whatever your skin tone, it really is best to minimize direct sun exposure.
- SUNSCREEN FAQS. Washington, DC: American Academy of Dermatology Association. (Accessed April 6, 2021)
- SKIN CANCER IN PEOPLE OF COLOR. Washington, DC: American Academy of Dermatology Association. (Accessed April 6, 2021)
- Ask the Expert: Is There a Skin Cancer Crisis in People of Color? New York, NY: Skin Cancer Foundation. (Accessed April 6, 2021)