Growing up as a Native American, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about the sun. Sure, I got the occasional sunburn, but mostly I tanned. I didn’t realize until I was an adult that every tan is a result of changes to your skin’s DNA, and that tanning can cause permanent damage to your skin cells and increase your risk of skin cancer. Research has come a very long way in the last few decades.
One of the big topics at this year’s annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology was the use of sunscreen, and its pros and cons, among people of darker skin. Sunscreen use is a somewhat complicated topic when it comes to people of color, because people with high levels of melanin are less likely to develop skin cancer than people with lighter skin, but they are also less likely to be diagnosed early.
Not just for burns
People of color, even today, may be less likely to use sunscreen effectively because they are less likely to burn. Without the painful and immediate reminder that too much time in the sun is not good for you, it’s easy to forget that the sun could be doing long term damage to your skin.
Unfortunately, we’re all susceptible to long term damage, including skin cancer, if we spend too much time unprotected in the sun’s rays.
Promoting proper sunscreen use
One of the best ways to promote sunscreen use among people with darker skin is to dispel the notion that the product is just for preventing short term damage. Parents of dark skinned children, especially, should be urged to use sunscreen according to the directions on the label.
Educating the public about proper sunscreen application and clarifying labeling on sun protection products were among the top concerns of the American Academy of Dermatology this year. Folks who burn easily are likely to reapply sunscreen often, but darker skinned people may not.
Concerns about Vitamin D
Doctors at the conference also noted that Vitamin D deficiencies are a concern that must be addressed. Although studies have not definitively shown a positive correlation between sunscreen use and lower levels of Vitamin D, people with high levels of melanin are already at risk of Vitamin D deficiency, which can cause many health problems.
A Vitamin D supplement can help, as can limited sun exposure without sunscreen, but extended exposure to the sun should still be done with some sort of skin protection because the risk of skin cancer is very real, no matter what color you are.
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What to Do If Your Child is Allergic to Sunscreen
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