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Why dark-skinned people should wear sunscreen

Updated: Mar 8, 2020

I remember going on a school trip. The teachers warned that it was going to be one of the hottest days in the year and that all parents should pack sunscreen for their children. My mum, extra as she is, made sure she put the largest bottle of factor 50 sunscreen in my backpack. When it came to getting it out on the trip, the teacher pulled it straight out of my hands and told me quite simply that, "I didn't need it and some of the other girls had left theirs at home". Looking back, her actions were wrong in so many ways (aside from the fact that that teacher owes my mum about £15), it set me on a path to believing that people of colour do not need to protect themselves from the sun.

Individuals of all races get skin cancer. Whilst the rates of skin cancer are definitely highest amongst caucasians, it is deadliest amongst people of colour. Once diagnosed, black people are 1.5x more likely to die from skin cancer than their caucasian counterparts. This is due to a lack of awareness of the risks of skin cancer and a subsequent delay in seeking medical advice. Despite the dangers of skin cancer to dark-skinned individuals being well acknowledged, there is still very little information and awareness of the dangers of the sun aimed at individuals with darker skin. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a sunscreen advert featuring people of colour? Or if you've ever heard the words: 'don't worry, the melanin in your skin will completely protect you'. I have.

Malignant Melanoma (pictured below) is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Most commonly it presents as a darkened, irregular patch of skin. You can see why the dark patch would be less noticeable on someone with black or brown skin in comparison to an individual with lighter skin and may go undiscovered for longer periods of time. As well as this, skin cancer is more likely to present on areas of the body that are less obvious such as the soles of the feet with people of colour.

So lets talk about the sun. I personally love the feeling of it on my skin. Who doesn't want that sunkissed feeling? But the sun is what I like to call a 'false-friend'. And beneath that temporary glow, ultraviolet rays are penetrating the surface of your skin and causing all manner of harm. There are two types of UV radiation that affect the skin: A and B. UVA damages the elasticity of the skin causing the skin to show signs of photoageing in the form of wrinkles, leathery skin and hyperpigmenation. UVB is strongly associated with sunburn and skin cancer. Melanin present in our skin protects us from the sun by absorbing UVA and UVB radiation. The more melanin in our skin, the greater the protection, however prolonged exposure to the sun at high intensities can be harmful to anyone. I reiterate that dark-skinned individuals can get skin cancer. I am currently sat in the offices of the Kilimanjaro Regional Dermatology Centre and I promise you the ten very melanated patients with ten very real skin cancers can attest to this fact. So the next time someone is telling you that 'you're melanin has got you covered', tell them that this is 'FAKE NEWS' and hold on extra tight to your bottle of sunscreen before it gets snatched. For healthy, youthful skin, we all need to take steps to avoid high-intensity sun exposure.

On another note, since starting this blog, 100% of women, men, girls and boys of colour that have spoken to me have asked about their 'dark spots' and hyperpigmentation. Melanin is the pigment in our skin that makes our skin darker and absorbs harmful UV radiation. The more sunlight directed onto our skin, the more melanin that is produced. If you've had conditions in the past such as acne and scarring, that have caused irregular patches of hyperpigmentation, then the sunlight makes this worse by producing more melanin and so increased exposure of UV radiation makes your darker patches even darker.

Take it from a woman who has had awful hyperpigmentation. Prevention is better than cure and you need your sunscreen. Once you have the hyperpigmentation, that's a different story and treatments such as acid skin peels, retinoids and microdermabrasion to reduce the appearance of dark marks are your best bet. I ended up reducing my hyperpigmentation by using retinoids. Though, I wish I knew earlier that I needed to protect my skin from the sun. I say again: the sun is no friend to your skin and we all need to be more sun aware. As I'm sat here in Tanzania, I am basking in the heat of the sun with caution. i.e with a sunhat, plenty of sunscreen and from under the shade of a beautiful Tanzanian tree.

Since I've started my mission for perfect skin. I've started using more and more products that increase my sensitivity to the sun e.g. retinoids and exfoliatiating acids and so have incorporated sunscreen into my daily skincare routine and will not leave home without wearing it. We should be using a broad-spectrum (UVA and B), long-lasting suncreen around SPF30. Good luck on your skin journeys and let me know if this one helps x

Love Dr Fab x

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