Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, and it doesn't just affect people with fair skin. If you have skin—no matter what color—you're at risk for developing skin cancer. This is why sun protection and skin cancer prevention are so important across the board.

The good news is that keeping your skin healthy and minimizing your risk of skin cancer is fairly simple. It just takes awareness and a bit of habit-building. Here's what you should know about skin cancer in people of color, including risk factors and simple steps to keep your skin healthy and vibrant all year round.

Can People of Color Get Skin Cancer?

People of all skin tones—including those with Black and brown skin—can get skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of melanoma is about 1 in 1,000 for Black people and roughly 1 in 200 for Hispanic people.

White people have a lifetime melanoma risk of about 1 in 33, so it's more common in people with fair skin. In fact, it's the number one malignancy—more common than lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined.

However, skin cancer fatality risk is higher for people with dark skin. Black patients with melanoma have an estimated five-year survival rate of 71 percent versus 94 percent for white patients.

Profile of a man with black skin breathing fresh air in nature a sunny day

Skin Cancer Outcomes in People with Black and Brown Skin

People of color are more likely to have worse skin cancer outcomes for a few reasons. For starters, skin cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage when the tumor is more advanced. There's also less general awareness about skin cancer in people of color. Healthcare professionals may have a lower index of suspicion for skin cancer in patients with Black and brown skin. Finally, some skin cancers in people of color are more likely to occur in areas that are harder to see, like the soles of the feet.

So, sun protection and skin cancer prevention are just as important—if not more so—in people with darker skin tones.

What Are the Types of Skin Cancer in People of Color?

The three most common skin cancers in people of color are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. Different risk factors can contribute to each type of skin cancer.


BCC results from excessive exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, including insufficient sunscreen use or other protective measures. BCC is most likely to appear on sun-exposed areas, such as the head and neck, in people of all skin tones.


Unlike BCC, SCC in darker-skinned people often occurs from skin trauma, like thermal or radiation burns, long-term scars, or chronic inflammatory skin conditions like lupus.


Melanoma in Black and brown skin can result from excessive sun exposure and sunburns. But it can also occur in sun-protected areas like the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, fingernails, toenails, mouth, and genitals.

How Can You Protect Your Skin from the Sun?

Using sunscreen daily is one of the best ways to keep your skin healthy and cancer-free. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher as part of your skin care routine, whether you're indoors or outdoors, rain or shine.

Try a tinted sunscreen like EltaMD UV Daily Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 40. In addition to blending seamlessly with all skin tones (goodbye, dreaded white cast!), tinted formulas help prevent hyperpigmentation caused by computer and phone screens. It's also infused with Hyaluronic Acid and antioxidant Vitamin E to hydrate skin and protect it from the visible signs of aging.

Or you could also try EltaMD UV Clear Deep Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, a lightweight, oil-free sunscreen formulated with 5% Niacinamide that is specifically designed to protect deeper skin tones from harmful UVA and UVB rays.

Other Sun-Safety Tips

Finding a sunscreen that works for your skin tone, type, and unique skin needs is key to building a daily habit. From there, here are some other ways to reduce your risk of skin cancer:

  • Schedule a yearly skin cancer screening with a board-certified Dermatologist.
  • Perform a monthly skin self-exam. Check your palms, soles, mouth, genitals, and toe and fingernails for anything new, different, or changing. Pay close attention to old scars and areas of previous skin trauma.
  • Seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. outdoors.
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing for extra protection against the sun.
  • Avoid tanning beds or sunlamps, which also emit harmful UV rays.

Guard Your Glow and Prioritize Your Skin Health

Delayed diagnosis is a major contributing factor to worse skin cancer outcomes in people of color. The reality is that anyone can get skin cancer, and everyone can benefit from regular screenings. Visit your Derm once a year for a skin cancer check or more often if you're at higher risk (e.g., you have a family history of melanoma). It's never too early to speak to a Derm about how to protect your skin and keep it healthy. Spreading the word and raising skin cancer awareness is paramount—and ultimately, it could save lives.



    Maria Robinson, MD, MBA is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist with over ten years of clinical experience. Dr. Robinson has a passion for nutrition and integrative dermatology, and is the co-founder of, where people can explore holistic dermatology treatments. Through her writing, she strives to empower people with accurate health information so they can make positive decisions that lead to healthy and vibrant skin.

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