*People of Color: “refers to diverse skin colors and includes people of African, Asian, Latino, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Native American descent”.24
There are many misconceptions and myths surrounding skin cancer and how it may affect individuals with brown and black skin colors.
Misconception 1: “People of color don’t get skin cancer”
People of all skin colors are at risk of developing skin cancer. Although rates of skin cancer in people of color are lower than in those with fairer skin, the survival outcomes are often worse.25 This is because skin cancer can look different on people of color. As a result it is often detected at later stages when it is more difficult to treat. There is also a lower public awareness about melanoma in people of color. This is why it is important for those in brown and black communities to understand their risks and how to protect themselves from sun damage.
Misconception 2: “The melanin in my skin is enough, I have natural sun protection”
Melanin, the chemical which gives skin its brown or tan color, provides some natural protection from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UV). However, long term UV exposure can lead to harmful effects for everyone no matter your skin tone.24 Skin cancer can also be found in places that have less melanin than the rest of your body (i.e., hands, inside of your mouth, etc.). This is why melanin alone does not serve as enough protection against skin cancer.
Misconception 3: “People of color don’t have to use sunscreen”
It is recommended that all people use sunscreen as an added protection against sun damage. Sunscreen can help reduce your risk of not only skin cancer but also hyperpigmentation, dry skin and aging lines.26 People of color can also get sunburn. Although it may take longer for sunburn to occur, this damage can happen regardless of one’s skin color.24,26,27 For some with darker skin tones, sunscreen can leave a gray or white casting on the skin which is a common complaint. If this is true for you, the solution is finding a sunscreen that works best for YOU. There are sunscreen products that are tinted in different shades to match your skin tone, sheer sunscreens and physical sunscreens for those with sensitive skin.
Self-Examination in People of Color
By checking your skin regularly, you could detect early signs of skin cancer. Many doctors and dermatologists recommend looking closely at your body at least once a month, checking your skin from head to toe. All you need is a full length mirror to help identify any spots or moles that don’t look normal.
What parts of my body should I pay attention to when checking?
Often, signs of melanoma in people of color appear in places on the body that seem protected from the sun (eyes, nail beds, lips, soles of the feet, etc.). This is why it is important to thoroughly check your entire body and learn what marks, freckles, pimples or moles exist so you can notice when changes occur. Melanoma can also frequently occur on the lower legs, face, arms, genitalia, areas of repeated injury, and pre-existing scars in people of color so checking those areas are also important.28
What should I look for?
Specifically, people of color should check for:
- Dark spots/growths
- Sores that won’t heal (or reappear)
- Rough dry patches
- Dark lines near the fingernails or toenails
- Moles changing in color, size or shape
Don’t forget to make your doctor or dermatologist aware of any new spots or sores you may be concerned about.
Vitamin D is essential for maintaining healthy bones, keeping your immune system strong, fighting different cancers, and is synthesized from sun exposure.29
How Can I Ensure I am Getting Enough Vitamin D?
Having more melanin reduces your ability to synthesize Vitamin D from the sun. About every 2 out of 5 Americans may be considered Vitamin D deficient. However, for African Americans this rate is even higher with almost 4 out of 5 being deficient (76%).30 Although limited amounts of Vitamin D can be obtained from the sun, the effects of UV exposure can be harmful. Another way to get Vitamin D includes a balanced and enriched diet. Foods like fatty fish (salmon, tuna fish, etc.), mushrooms and some dairy products can include Vitamin D as well.29 Vitamin D supplements are another option. However, you should speak with your doctor about checking your levels and for guidance on what foods or supplements will help you maintain healthy levels.