While the idea of Africans needing sunscreen might seem like a farfetched, it certainly is not. Sunscreen is a lotion, spray, gel that absorbs or reflects some of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation on the skin exposed to sunlight.
“All races should wear sunscreen while in the sun. Despite the fact that black people have more melanin in their skin than lighter-skinned people, making it less likely that they’ll sunburn while outdoors, darker-skinned people can still develop skin cancer and other problems from the sun’s ultraviolet rays”, explained Doctor Francoise Gahongayire, a dermatologist at King Faisal Hospital.
Although people with dark skin tend to burn less, they are still at the risk of skin cancer. Black people are at risk for sunburn in lighter areas, such as the bottom of feet or beneath fingernails. Without protection, the sun may also cause damage, discoloration and wrinkles, especially in these areas.
While Caucasians are much more likely to develop skin cancer or die from skin cancer than black people, blacks are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease at a later stage when the skin cancer is less curable. In addition, blacks are more likely to develop squamous cell cancer, which sometimes spreads to organs and the lymph nodes.
Dermatologists say the sunblock should contain a minimum sun protection factor of 15 to help block ultraviolet rays from the skin. Use sun protection factor 30 or higher if you will be outdoors for an extended period of time during hot seasons.
“However, it’s important for one to see a dermatologist if you notice any new moles or lesions; changes in existing moles or lesions, including bleeding, changes in shape or colour, crusting or spots underneath your nails”, Gahongayire advised.
Africans are most likely to develop abnormal moles indicative of melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer, on their palms, soles of their feet or beneath fingernails or toenails, even if these areas have not been exposed to the sun.
People of all races are more likely to develop skin cancer if they have had radiation therapy, burn scars, trauma, a weakened immune system or albinism. Conditions that cause skin scarring, such as leprosy or discoid lupus, also increase a person’s risk of developing skin cancer, especially squamous cell carcinoma.
Therefore, protect yourself from skin cancer and other harmful effects of UV rays such as premature aging, by always wearing sunscreen with SPF15 or higher when going outside, even if you are dark skinned, wear sunglasses to protect you from UV rays and wide-brimmed hats.