There's a long-standing myth that dark skin is immune to skin cancer. It’s true that those with fairer skin are 10 times more likely to develop melanoma — the most deadly type of skin cancer according to the Centersfor Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — but that doesn’t mean that those with darker skin are not at risk too.
The truth is skin protection isan issue for this group, especially since darker-skinned people who develop melanoma are more likely to die from the condition, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Lack of protection, combined with late detection, often leads to higher death rates from skin cancer for African Americans, as well as for Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans.
Part of the misperception has to do with melanin, the pigment that gives skin and hair their natural color. The more melanin you have, the darker your skin. People with darker skin can have a natural sun protection factor (SPF) of up to 13 as compared to an SPF of 3 to 4 for fair-skinned individuals. Although pigmentation helps block the sun’s damaging ultra-violet (UV) rays, acting as a natural layer of protection, it does so only to an extent. UVA andUVB rays will still penetrate skin and cause damage. This damage may ultimately lead to skin cancer, including melanoma, which is often found on the palms, fingers, bottoms of the feet or other more lightly pigmented areas of the body.
Probably the most notable case was that of singer Bob Marley, who died at age 36 from melanoma. The cancer was initially dismissed as a soccer injury to his toenail, so treatment was delayed and his cancer spread. Most skin cancers, if caught on time, are highly treatable and many are curable.
The bottom line is, regardless of skin color, texture or type, everyone needs sunscreen. The CDC recommends a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 for everyone. It's a simple step in your everyday routine that could potentially save your life.
Written by Amanda Reichert