Sun protection and skin cancer prevention are important measures for skin health, regardless of skin tone. Below are easy steps that can be taken to ensure maximum protection not only during the summer months, but throughout the entire year.

Skin Cancer in People of Color

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer represents 1-2 percent of all cancers in Black people, 2-4 percent of all cancers in Asian people, and 4-5 percent of all cancers in Hispanic people.

Amongst White patients, skin cancer is the number one malignancy—more common than the incidence of lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer combined. Although those with melanin-rich skin are less likely to get skin cancer, in some instances, they are unfortunately more likely to die from this disease. Black patients with melanoma have an estimated five-year survival rate of 67 percent, versus 92 percent for white patients.

The difference in mortality rates has to do with a delay in diagnosis and, perhaps, more biologically aggressive tumors. This highlights the importance of yearly skin examinations with a board-certified Dermatologist, monthly self-skin exams, and daily sun protection.

Preventing 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. BCC comes from too much sun exposure and not enough sunscreen or overall ultraviolet (UV) protection. In all races, BCC is most likely to appear on sun-exposed areas, such as the head and neck.

SCC occurs oftentimes in darker-skinned people as a result of trauma, such as thermal/radiation burns, long-term scars, or inflammatory skin conditions like lupus. In light skin, SCC usually occurs as a result of UV exposure.

Melanoma in darker races can result from sun exposure and sunburns, or it can occur in sun-protected areas including the palms, soles, fingernails, toenails, and on the oral and genital mucosa.

Sun Protection in People of Color

Daily sunscreen use, regardless of weather conditions, is imperative for all skin types. In fact, a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or higher should be part of your skin care routine whether indoors or outdoors, in rain or shine. Computer screens, cell phone screens, and even the light bulbs in your home and office can create hyperpigmentation, particularly on brown skin. Beyond that, regular use of sunscreen is the most reliable way to prevent skin malignancy.

Optimal protection against skin cancer in melanin-rich skin includes the following:

  • Yearly skin cancer screenings with a board-certified Dermatologist
  • Monthly self-skin exams looking for anything new different or changing (check palms, soles, under all nails, and even in the mouth and genital area for brown lesions or new growths; and pay special attention to old scars or areas of previous trauma)
  • Daily use of a broad-spectrum 30 or higher, with reapplication every two hours or after intense sweating/swimming
  • Seeking the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Use of a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing

The Importance of Skin Checks

When it comes to cancer in darker skin tones, a delay in diagnosis is a major contributing factor to worse outcomes. There can be the misconception that darker complexions are immune to skin cancer, making Dermatologist visits a lower priority.

The reality is that anyone can get skin cancer, and everyone can benefit from regular screenings. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends yearly skin cancer screenings for everyone at the age of 40, and sooner if there is a personal or family history of skin cancer. It's never too early to speak to a Dermatologist about protecting your skin. Spreading the word and raising skin cancer awareness is paramount—and ultimately, could be a lifesaving effort.

Author

  • Dr. Mona Gohara is a Connecticut-based Dermatologist and associate professor of Dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. She has a particular interest in skin cancer prevention and treatment for skin of color. Dr. Gohara spends a lot of time outdoors with her husband, son, and two dogs, Coco and Cleo. They all wear sunscreen.