Summer Guide: Sunscreen and Skin Health

A survey conducted in 2016 states that up to 63% of African Americans said that they’ve never used sunscreen before. Now, why is that? Due to the false ideas that people of color don’t need to use sunscreen, or that black people just get “darker” not burnt, to the socioeconomic disadvantages people of color face. It’s time to debunk some of those myths, show the importance of sunscreen and the signs to look for with the different types of skin cancer. Debunking these myths are important because even though sunscreen seems like an extra step to your day, it could potentially save your life.

  1. “People of color don’t need sunscreen.”


FALSE. Yes, melanin provides a layer of protection against the sun’s UV rays, but that doesn’t make it a substitute for sunscreen. Tales like this one create the dangerous idea that people of color don’t need sunscreen to help prevent skin cancer; But it’s exactly the opposite, sunscreen is a necessity for everybody regardless of race. With the American Cancer Society recommends that people wear sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection (protects against all UVA/UVB rays) with SPF 30, and wear accessories such as hats and sunglasses to protect against the sun rays.


   2. “Black people can’t get skin cancer.”

FALSE. Not only can black people get skin cancer, black people are most likely of all racial groups to die when they are diagnosed with it. Even though sunscreen awareness is important, it isn’t the only factor of why people of color die from skin cancer at higher rates than their Caucasian counterparts. Lack of insurance, socioeconomic disadvantages, and lack of preventative skin screenings, all contribute to worse results on average after diagnosis.

   3. “Black people can’t get sunburnt.”



Well, most people recognize that when someone is white and stays in the sun too long, they usually turn red — which means they’re sunburnt. Comparably, when black people stay in the sun too long, they get darker — that also means they’re sunburnt. Just because darker skin tones don’t turn red doesn’t mean they aren’t burnt. A sunburn isn’t the determining factor to the damaged skin - skin that is unprotected can still be damaged by the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Not a lot of people know the signs of skin cancer and that there are four different types of skin cancer that people can get with different physical symptoms; some can look like dry skin whereas some look like an asymmetrical mole.

Basal Cell Carcinoma, which is the most common skin cancer. Usually appears in people with fairer skin tones, but has been recorded in people of color. Developed after years of unprotected sun exposure and indoor tanning, it looks like a pink raised pearl bump. Early diagnosis is important for this cancer because if untreated, it can burrow into surrounding tissue, nerves and bones.

 Actinic Keratoses which is a type of cancer which doesn’t affect people of color as much, but is worth noting. Actinic Keratoses or AK is usually spotted in people ages 40 or higher because it’s a precancerous mole that develops after years of being in the sun. This cancer is most likely on the hands, neck, forearms, and head, and it appears as dry and scaly.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer, and it shows up as a red firm bump or as a sore that reopens. It appears on areas that receive the most sun exposure, such as the face, ears, neck arms, chest and back. Early diagnosis can prevent spreading throughout the body.

Now for Melanoma which is the rarest cancer to get, but it is the most widely known because of how dangerous it is. People of color are most susceptible to Acral Lentiginous Melanoma (ALM), which is found on the soles of feet or the palms of hands. No one is sure why it’s found more often in people of color. Melanoma usually appears as a new mole with no definite shape.

Use the ABCDE rule to self-diagnose (note: This rule is only applicable to melanoma and it’s not necessary to have all five to have a possible case of melanoma):

  • A is for Asymmetrical Shape: Most “beauty marks” or moles have a circular shape, which isn’t a cause for concern. If the shape looks irregular, you should contact your doctor.

  • B is for Borders: Moles usually have a smooth border, but melanoma has jagged or rough edges.

  • C is for Color: Melanoma can have more than one color - grey, pink or just a raised red bump. A regular mole should be either brown or plain grey only.

  • D is for Diameter: A mole that is around the same size as a pencil eraser should be looked at.

  • E is for Evolution: If the mole becomes itchy, burns or starts growing it should be checked out immediately. Moles shouldn’t change much.

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 With this heat wave creating crowds at Rockaway Beach, please remember to lather on the sunscreen, schedule your yearly skin screening and look out for the signs of skin cancer. NYC has provided free sunscreen dispensaries all over the boardwalk, so people have no excuse to not be protected from the sun’s deadly rays. So, with only two months left in the summer please enjoy the summer rays … safely.