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Sunscreen for Darker and Black Skin

Everyone can be at risk from skin cancer

Summer hopefully is on its way and it is time to think sunscreen. Most people know that too much sun too quickly, even in these northern climes, can do radical damage to our skin.

But despite all the information around now, there are still lots of misconceptions about this. One aspect is that if you have skin that tans very easily, or if you naturally have dark or black skin, then you won’t get sun burn or skin cancer.

Overall, there is some truth in this - people of African descent with very dark skins have a natural sun protection factor of up to 13 whereas for northern white skins, the natural protection can be as low as 3. But while darker skinned people will have a lot more protection than someone with a pale white skin, you definitely don’t have total protection and there are also different dangers.

Knowing you have damaged your skin is one of them. For fair skinned people, even a slight over exposure to the sun will show clearly as the skin turns pink and then red. With darker skin, this change won’t necessarily show and it is not until you feel pain, or the skin starts blistering or peeling, that you realise you have overdone the sun.

And by then it is too late; getting just one sunburn that blisters can lift your likelihood of getting skin cancer.

Also, in melanoma, with darker skin it tends to show itself in places which aren’t easily spotted; possibly on the palms of the hand or the soles of the feet. This actually means that people with black skin are often diagnosed with melanoma later than pale skinned people, and because of this the death rate from melanoma can be relatively higher. Music icon Bob Marley died at 36 from melanoma that was first thought to be a soccer injury to his toenail.

There is another problem though. Sun gives us vitamin D and research from America shows that nearly a third of people with dark or black skin are deficient in vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to lung disease, cancers, diabetes and other problems. So that means that if you have dark skin, you need perhaps slightly more exposure to sunshine than white skinned people.

Therefore it is important that darker skinned people take precautions against sunburn, investing in good sunscreens and making sure they don’t over expose their skin.

With over 70,000 new cases of skin cancer being diagnosed every year in the UK, everyone should be ensuring they are adequately prepared for the coming summer months.


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