When we think of sun safety, we often picture someone with very pale skin who has a sunburn, or a Caucasian woman getting on a tanning bed. However, teens with darker skin also need protection from the sun, no matter what shade they are. It is true that people with darker skin are less likely to sunburn, and less likely to get skin cancer overall. However, that comes with some very specific disclaimers that all parents and families of teens of color should know. Let’s look at some myths about sun safety for people with darker skin, and what the true story is.
Myth: People of color don’t have to worry about skin cancer.
It’s true that lighter-skinned people are more likely to get skin cancer related to sun exposure. However, it’s very important to point out that that when people with darker skin do get skin cancer, they are much less likely to survive it. Because skin cancer in people of color is more rare, medical providers may not make an accurate diagnosis in the early stages. It’s important that your teen make note of any skin changes and ask a provider about them right away.
Myth: People of color don’t have to worry about sun damage.
Besides increasing the risk of skin cancer, sun can cause cosmetic damage like premature wrinkling and texture changes on skin of all shades.
Myth: People of color don’t sunburn.
Those with paler skin may turn red, while those with darker skin may look darker. It’s still a sunburn, and it still causes damage. While it may take a longer time for someone with a darker skin tone to sunburn, as opposed to a pale person, they can still get a sunburn and all the annoyance and risk that goes with it.
Myth: People of color don’t want a tan- or if they do, they can go in the sun.
People with darker skin tan for many reasons. It can even out skin tone when someone has lighter skin in certain areas, change the “undertone” of skin, or some people just like their skin darker. Teens with darker skin who want to tan safely need to avoid tanning beds, as they are one of the worst things your teen can do for their skin. They should also avoid “spray tans”, either at home or in the tanning salons, as data indicates that some of the ingredients may be harmful. Sun tanning is out, due to risk for cancer and skin damage, as are tanning pills. So far, the safest options seem to be self-tanning gels and lotions.
Myth: People of color don’t need to worry about sun protection like paler people do.
As you can see above, that’s not the case. No matter what their skin color, teens need to wear sunscreen when outdoors, wear sun-protective clothing like a hat or long-sleeve shirt when sun is strongest, and try to avoid direct sunlight between 10 am and 4 pm. This link has good information about sun protection.
Your teen may look at you strangely if you talk to them about sun safety, especially it this is a new topic for them. Remind them that while they are less at risk for sunburn than their lighter-skined peers, darker skin still needs to be protected. Advise them on ways to have healthy, beautiful skin for a long time to come.