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Myth Buster

Can Dark-Skinned People Skip the Sunscreen?

Myth: People with dark-colored skin don’t need sunscreen.

Facts: “This is a dangerous assumption,” says Andrew Adesman, M.D., chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. “On the one hand, certainly there’s less risk of sunburn in dark-skinned people.” More melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, offers some protection against burning. “But in the long term, the concern is skin cancer, and the mortality from melanoma is higher in blacks than it is in whites,” says Adesman. “That shouldn’t have to be.”

While far fewer dark-skinned people are diagnosed with melanoma—the deadliest skin cancer—those who do get it face worse odds of surviving the disease than their fair-skinned counterparts. This may be due to later detection. When African Americans are diagnosed with melanoma, often it has already spread.

On the bright side, many cases of skin cancer can be prevented, regardless of skin tone. If you can’t avoid being in the sun during midday, use a sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 15 and good UV protection, with ingredients such as titanium dioxide and mexoryl. Keeping a close eye on your skin and asking a doctor about any new growths or changes in freckles, moles and birthmarks can help ensure early skin cancer detection for people of every race.

Beth Goulart is a freelance journalist based in Austin, Texas.

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