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Dark Skin & the Sun

Dark Skin & the Sun Dark Skin & the Sun


If you have olive, brown or black skin, you may think you don't have to worry about sun exposure as much as fair-skinned people. A pigment known as melanin determines the color of your skin. People with darker skins have more melanin. And although the University of Maryland Medical center reports melanin does provide some natural sun protection, dark-skinned people should take precautions when in the sun.

Function of Melanin

According to Dr. Hugh Gloster of the University of Cincinnati, melanin in dark African-American skin can provide the equivalent of SPF 13. Melanin in dark skin can filter out as much as twice as many harmful ultraviolet rays as skin in paler people, whose skin contains little melanin. If you spend a lot of time in the sun or the sun is very intense, such as at high altitudes where the atmosphere is thinner, you can still burn if you have darker skin, just as someone wearing sunscreen can still burn.

Sun Damage

People of color may have problems with hyperpigmentation -- areas of skin darker than surrounding skin. Or they may develop raised freckles known as dermatosis papulosis nigra. Both of these problems can be the result of sun damage. Even if you don't develop skin cancer or hyperpigmentation, sun exposure contributes to aging and wrinkling of your skin.

Skin Cancer

University of Cincinnati professor Hugh Gloster, M.D., reported in 2006 on research that revealed that although skin cancer was rarer among blacks, Hispanics, Asians and others with darker skin, when melanoma did strike people in these groups, the cancer was more aggressive and more likely to lead to death. Gloster found that African-Americans were more likely to develop melanoma on the palms of their hands, soles of their feet and under their nails.


Dr. Taylor recommends people with darker skin wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater every day. This can help protect you from cancer and hyperpigmentation. You should also do regular skin checks to look for abnormal moles or sores. These could be early signs of skin cancer that, if treated early, could save your life. Wearing long sleeves and long pants when you're in the sun, as well as a hat that shades your face, can also protect your skin from the sun.


If you've suffered sun damage such as wrinkles or hyperpigmentation, treatment includes topical creams, microdermabrasion and facial peels, Dr. Susan Taylor of the Skin Color Center in New York told More magazine. Microdermabrasion and facial peels both remove layers of skin to reduce the appearance of lines and discoloration, and encourage the production of new collagen. Lasers may also be used to treat hyperpigmentation, though there's a risk that the lasered skin won't match surrounding skin. Skin cancer may require surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

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