By ALESHA CADET
Tribune Features Reporter
IT has been a long held belief that the darker your skin, the less protection it needs against the sun’s harmful rays. However, medical experts warn that no-one is immune to the sun’s devastating impact.
The misconception that dark skinned people should not use sun screen or a sun block to protect their skin is an issue and a mindframe dermatologists are trying to change.
Natila Saunders, owner and medical esthetician at Skin Solutions, told Tribune Health: “It is important for people of all colours, races, no matter which background you come form, to use a sunscreen. It is no longer a Caucasian thing, it is a ‘people’s thing.’
“The sun is the number one aging factor and it ages the skin prematurely. And not only that, we are all at risk for skin cancer. Malignant melanoma a time ago was a Caucasian thing, but now with the depleting ozone layer, the sun rays are even more damaging, especially ultraviolet (UV) rays. They have contributed to many persons getting cancer, so it is like I said, no longer a colour thing, it is a people thing,” said Ms Saunders.
According to livestrong.com, using sun protection, including applying sunscreen and avoiding the sun’s rays during peak hours, is important regardless of your skin tone.
The website says that people with dark skin have melanosomes that are larger and in greater abundance than people with fair skin.
‘Skin of colour’ refers to people of various races and ethnicities, says the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), including Asians, African-Americans, Native Americans and Latinos.
Ms Saunders added: “We naturally as black people have a sun protection factor (SPF), where the melanin in our skin protects us from sun damage, so whenever you get any type of sun exposure, you would notice that the skin becomes darker. That is basically the body’s natural defence against sun damage, but you still have to protect it.”
Tribune Health asked Bahamians about the importance of using a sunscreen. Some were aware of the issues that it helps to prevent such as damaging skin, while others said it had no effect on them.
Melanie has never used a sunscreen or a sunblock because she has never been sun burned and she doesn’t think it would matter if she decides to use it.
She said: “I’m sure it works excellently for people who would get burned easily. I mean it is evident that the sun affects them more. I never heard of dark skinned people getting skin cancer due to the sun, so I’m not really aware of the importance of sun block.”
Also interviewed by The Tribune was Caroline who said: “Maybe I need to look into it and do some research but I never used sun block because I never understood the importance of it and how it would benefit me. I just thought it was always for light skin people simply because I would always see them use it. I figured it was mostly for them.”
Asked why people have a mindset that the use of sunscreen or sun block is based on skin colour, Ms Saunders said: “Basically because we are not as prone to skin cancer, it was never a real concern for the skin care companies to market sun screen heavily among people with a darker skin colour. That is the main reason why it is not something that is widely spread in black society that it is important to wear sun block. Black people are not immune to skin cancer, so it is important to use it.”
“We still need protection. If you want to preserve your youth and maintain your youthful appearance, it is always important to use a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, to apply twenty to thirty minutes before sun exposure,” said Ms Saunders.
Denise, another Bahamian, told The Tribune: “I am a black person and I feel like no matter if you are black, white, Chinese or Native American, you should protect your skin against the sun. It has already been established by numerous studies that the sun’s rays contribute to skin cancer.
“It is more about caring for yourself and protecting yourself from diseases such as cancer. It is also about taking care of the beauty of your skin, it is not necessarily about worrying if you are the right colour to use a sun block. If you are in the sun too much, aging will come more quickly for you and it just damages, so it is important to protect your skin,” she said.