STYLE

Sunscreen Is Still Necessary For People With Dark Skin

05/31/2017 05:05 EDT

There's a common, and dangerous, misconception that people who have darker skin tones are immune from the potential damaging effects of UV rays.

And while having more melanin does provide some protection, anyone who's had prolonged exposure to the sun is at an increased risk of getting a sunburn or even skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

In fact, a study done by Case Western Reserve University in Ohio found that black people who do develop skin cancer are more likely to die than white, Hispanic, or East Asian patients.

skin cancer

"I think awareness and myths about skin cancer play a large role in this," Seemal R. Desai, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre told Allure in 2016. "Patients with darker skin tones think, 'I can't get skin cancer; [I have] tanned skin.' But that is actually not true. If patients think they can't get skin cancer, they don’t look for suspicious lesions and, thus, get a delay in diagnosis and subsequent treatment. In addition, I think access to care and minority health issues play a role as well."

Thankfully, there's been a surge of dermatologists who cater to non-white skin in the U.S., but the same can't be said in Canada.

It was only in 2011 that dermatologist Dr. Davindra Singh created Toronto-based AvantDerm, the country's first-ever clinic to focus on "ethnic skin," after noticing there was an underserved niche in the skincare market.

"Every [dermatology] textbook shows white people and everything [in their skin] looks red," he told The Globe and Mail a few months after he opened the practice, explaining that there's also an issue when it comes to proper and inclusive training.

black person tanning

But now that he has the platform, the doctor is speaking out on the importance of sunscreen, regardless of skin tone.

"To keep your skin looking great, you must use sunscreen," he tells HuffPost Canada. "Sunscreen messaging is difficult because many people will trade off the immediate benefits of a tan compared to the long term risk of pigmentation, cancers, and photo-aging. The more knowledge we impart, the better the choices will be."

But skin cancer isn't the only concern. Melasma, hyperpigmentation and dermatosis papulosa nigra (DPN), all of which discolour the skin, are also sun-related issues that can arise.

“If patients think they can't get skin cancer, they don’t look for suspicious lesions and, thus, get a delay in diagnosis and subsequent treatment.”
— Jason Kenney,

clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre

Another problem that darker-skinned people deal with when applying sunscreen is the white, chalky residue that's sometimes left behind. For this, Dr. Singh recommends blends that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which he says typically have an added tint that better blend in with "olive or darker skin types."

Nigerian sisters Chinelo Chidozie and Ndidi Obidoa also created a skin care line, Bolden, that is specially designed for darker skin and dries clear.


Dr. Singh also suggests putting on sunscreen, at least SPF 45, everyday, year-round. He says it should be applied generously 20 to 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, and then reapplied if you're sweating or swimming.

The doctor adds that sunscreen isn't the only option when it comes to protecting your skin.

"The other ways are likely more important," he says. "Some of these include wearing proper clothing and hats, seeking shade, staying out of the sun around solar noon and being extra careful from the reflection of snow and water."

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