It’s summer time, which means time outside in the sun, and on the beach! We soak
up some sunrays and some vitamin D, but it’s also time for protection of our skin.
When many of us were young, we’d play all day long in the sun, and come inside
with nice tan lines from our tank tops and a sun-kissed face after a day of fun. And
depending on how much exposure we had received, some of us would even peel
from sunburn. However, as we get older, we have to be careful with preventing
damage to the skin and potential future risks of health issues related to too much
Yes, black people can get sunburned and get skin cancer. As a child, I could recall
being so surprised when my fairer skinned father’s nose or forehead would peel
after a day the sun. Once I started studying medicine and learning about the many
skin conditions either caused by or made worse by the sun, such as actinic keratosis
or types of cancer, I also learned that African American skin can be affected,
although generally at lower rates than Caucasian or other types of skin tones.
A patient of mine brought the condition “sun poisoning” to my attention recently
after a beach trip, and I was surprised I had never learned about this. It’s a condition
caused by a very severe sun burn that occurs with systemic symptoms, such as
fever, fatigue, dehydration, nausea, dizziness, skin redness and blistering, pain,
swelling, and headache. I had never heard of such a thing, and it has nothing to do
with skin color, and everything to do with too much sun bathing.
Even more concerning is the potential of future skin cancers. Current stats on skin
cancers for ethnic groups state in 2010, among men, white men had the highest
rate of getting melanoma of the skin, followed by American Indian/Alaska Native,
Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and black men. Among women, white women had
the highest rate of getting melanoma of the skin, followed by Hispanic, American
Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, and black women*.
What is the appropriate type of sunscreen to use? Most references say using one
with at least SPF of 30 (I’d say 50) and one that is “broad-spectrum”. This means
one that protects from both UVA and UVB rays. Place on body 15-30 minutes before
going out. Always wear a hat, sunglasses and protective clothing. Reapply sunscreen
every 2 hours or so as you sweat. I put sunscreen in my face and body lotion now
to make sure I’m covered. There are many daily lotions that now include SPF for
protection, which is really smart and efficient.
Finally, as always, knowing the signs is crucial in identifying skin issues and cancers.
A mole may not be just a mole. Knowing what’s normal and not normal can be life
The “ABCDEs” of skin cancer are as follows: (if the answer to these is “no”, the spots
could be abnormal)
A-asymmetry—If you drew a line through the spot, would the sides match?
B-borders—Are the borders smooth and round?
C-color—Is the spot one uniform color (if many colors, could be a warning sign)?
D-diameter—Is the spot larger than 1⁄4 in (1/4in=size of pencil eraser)?
E-evolving—Has the spot changed in any way (size, number, shape, darkening,
Be healthy and be blessed,
http://www.cdc.gov, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Skin Cancer Rates by
Race and Ethnicity
http://www.skincancer.org, Do you know your ABCDEs?